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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 15 New Delhi March 28, 2020

Signs of the times

Saturday 28 March 2020, by Humra Quraishi


Musings - March 25, 2020

If we are over with clapping and banging on thaalis and the other noise rendering sessions, its time to sit up and see the dark realities hitting millions amongst us. Lack or rather the near-absence of water. And when we say wash hands every twenty minutes with water and soap to keep off the Corona virus, do we realize that millions do not have access to water nor soap. At times not even a drop of clean drinking water! Nor do they have access to the basic food grains and the connected bandobast. They sit awaiting death, with parched throats and empty stomachs.

A substantial percentage of our country’s population is near-dying under the near absence of the basics to human survival, yet there seem no governmental schemes underway to reach out free cooked meals/ basic everyday food items and clean drinking water on a daily basis to the hundreds and thousands of the dis-advantaged and deprived families sitting all too shocked under these lockdowns and clampdowns and curfews.

Mind you, if the dreaded virus doesn’t infect and suffocate their system, hunger and malnutrition and thirst is sure to! Hunger related deaths will go up, that’s different matter altogether that they could get clubbed with the various diseases and disorders that hunger and malnutrition invariably drags along.

Last fortnight the auto -driver driving me from one end of the city to another, told me that he was thinking of selling his vehicle and getting back to his village, as the number of passengers was dwindling, and with that he couldn’t pay his loans. What next for him and his family? Nothing but sheer disasters lined up! Said, he had enough money to buy the rations for the next few days and then khallas! Khatam! No, he wouldn’t be able to pay his house rent and nor his children’s tuition fees.

Mind you, in this state of curfews and clampdowns, this reality will hit millions yet we seem to have no emergency- ridden combat plans. Tell me, what are we doing to keep our human population alive? The daily-wager earns enough for the day. What happens to him and his brood for the next three weeks? For him, its not a question of today or tomorrow but of the day- after- tomorrow!

Tragically, the sarkar of the day isn’t even thinking in terms of going back on its decision to implement the CAA- NRC- NPR! As it is, the masses sit under huge strain cum severe stress because of the current situation of death staring in the face, and then to heap this additional burden of trying to go proving a this or that, would turn fatal for large numbers! Who will be left with the nerves to search for citizenship papers and proofs when they are not too sure of the next morn! If spared by the virus they would be pounced upon by the citizenship- inspectors coming in various hues and forms, wearing khaki- knickers or khaki-trousers and what not!

What are we doing for the upkeep of the alive? Its getting more than relevant to ask: Why do our citizens dread going to the sarkari medical centres and hospitals, often labelled ‘ bucherkhanaas’ because of the large number of casualties in an atmosphere poisoned with infections and viruses of all names and surnames! There is something or everything so very amiss and lacking in the government’s focus on the entire health care machinery.

And its time to question and query what steps are undertaken for the safety of the entire medical and paramedical teams. If the rulers of the day genuinely cared for the medical-healers, then instead of giving those suggestions to bang- on -thaalis and stainless steel plates, they would be seen taking rounds
of the various sarkari hospitals and hospices. Perhaps, furthering their rounds to the relief- camps in North East Delhi, where the 2020 Delhi pogrom devastated are trying to survive against all possible odds. And, perhaps, taking few steps still further ahead, and tell us all how to combat the horrifying communal virus unleashed on us every few months! Yes, not to be overlooked the fact that we Indians are hit by two very, very serious viruses — the Corona virus and the communal virus. Compounded stands the situation.


I have been thinking how the Kashmiris have managed to somehow survive months and months of clampdowns and curfews and lockdowns. Correct me if I’m wrong but they have built- up community bonding and with that community service, where they would reach out to the affected. I have seen in Srinagar how even the ordinary citizen would go out of his way to help assist volunteers in the hospitals. Even those from the lower middle class, who were all set to leave for the various religious or semi-religious pilgrimages, had shelved all those plans, instead donated their ‘saved…tucked away’ hard -earned money for patients’ treatment in the various hospitals of the Kashmir region. Also, seeing the urgent need for counselling, many volunteers started counselling those whose nerves couldn’t take the strain of the ongoing clampdowns and curfews amidst the State unleashed atrocities.

Kashmiris have suffered tremendously on account of severe lockdowns. The impact very severe, those imprints of the lasting sorts, but community bonding does provide the much needed cushioning and healing.

Today, in the present scenario, with more and more of us, sitting all too cut- off and cross, anxieties and apprehensions are sure to shoot up! Are we prepared for disasters on this front — the impact of lockdowns on the mental well- being of adults and the ageing and yes, also on the young! Summer heat will compound the levels of stress for thousands of Indians living in the different locales and regions of the country. Are we prepared for this? What combat measures are upcoming, in the making?

Yes, its time to think in terms of helpline services where counselling can be rendered free and free- flowing! Also, its about time that we start thinking of roti and milk and vegetable and education banks! As there is that urgent need to reach out with the basics to daily survival.

There is also scare of a police state upcoming. Our everyday life, rather whatever remains of our everyday lives, could be in the control of the cops, Going ...gone are the democratic spaces, overtaken by the huge policing bandobast.

What is happening to our imprisoned population in terms of this virus and the connected dos and don’ts that come along the prevention format? Yes, we the semi- imprisoned, have got to ask what is happening to the formally and fully imprisoned. Not to overlook the fact that almost seventy -five percent of the imprisoned population consists of the under-trials. That is, all those who are yet to be proven culprits and are not convicted, so technically innocent. How many innocents sitting languishing could be struck by this virus in this imprisoned state. Can we save their lives? Shouldn’t we free ( at least temporarily) the imprisoned doctors and nurses from the prisons across the country, so that they can reach out to the ill and dying? Shouldn’t the likes of Dr.Kafeel Khan been tending patients than siting languishing in a prison cell?

Its an extremely bleak situation. What, with the virus, rather the two viruses, hovering around. Together with that, perhaps, the biggest tragedy is that those handful amongst us who have been trying to reach out to the disadvantaged and deprived citizens of this country, are the ones getting hounded by the political lobbies seemingly out to silence the sane voice. Tragic that activists and academics of the calibre of Harsh Mander, Professor Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha are targeted.

And as the brave gutsy women of Shaheen Bagh and of other ‘Baghs’ in the country had to rather too reluctantly move from the anti- CAA- NPR- NCR protest sites, its time to salute their spirit and also to ask those manning this government of the day, to re-think in terms of their announcements for the implementation of these anti - citizen moves and decisions and threats....Please let the hapless citizen of this country of ours, survive in some sort of peace and sukoon.


Leaving you with these lines of Gulzar, perhaps relaying the fragility of it life and everyday living!
“Nothing is permanent, nothing at all
Days and nights fall on the chausar board
Like kauri shells, some face up others down
The months and years dealt out to you
Slip through your fingers
Nothing is permanent, nothing at all
And what is permanent is me
I, who is changing at every instant.”

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