MUSINGS & MALEDICTIONS

Handling virus, and aberrations

Handling virus, and aberrations

Keki Daruwalla

IT is not too difficult to be critical and carping of state policies or actions. But tackling an unprecedented human crisis in a diverse country with its tangential pulls, interests, lobbies is a tremendous task. Managing the crisis, limiting the deaths must have been quite a feat. Managing all this while keeping to constitutional and democratic norms is even more difficult. Political agendas remain what they are even if we are in a sort of national struggle against a killer virus. But then, we are asking for the moon.

In these difficult times, we need to burrow inwards. We have to focus on our faults rather than look outwards and pat our own backs, since there is no one else to do it. Just thumping our chest and saying we have done better than say Italy or UK and America is not of much use. That 20 lakh crore oration has already been forgotten and later it was hinted that it included a miasma of other promissory notes issued by the government. Our only panacea seems a lockdown, no one can think beyond it. Could I add something really dismal? Suppose that hoped-for vaccine never comes? Suppose the Holy Grail, forgive the mixed metaphor, remains remote, a UFO that evades us, vanishes into the unknown. Humanity is, as a species, resilient. After all, we wrestled with the Black Death without a vaccine and the Justinian Plague much before it. Incidentally, the Black Death, which took away 150 million lives, also emanated from China.

Fortunately, the country sometimes does not forget, and it has not forgotten the migrants, though our planners and Niti Aayog and Home Ministry had an attack of amnesia on the day of the first 8 pm-announced lockdown. It is said 17 lakh are headed back to UP, that we have 14 crore migrants. In all this hurly burly, we are forgetting the riots in Delhi and the systematic bullying of a well-behaved student community in the finest universities the country has. It was also an occasion, or rather a series of occasions, when the state (which means the police, isn’t it?) colluded with the aggressors, the masked goons who suddenly appeared like this coronavirus from Wuhan. Goons also behaved shamefully in another college, which had nothing to do with communities — just jumping into a women’s college while they were enjoying a festival.

Memory is a funny thing, can be elusive or ready at hand for the politico. Every Indian politician who has gone up in life has mastered the art of negotiating memory. You need trackers to tell the world when memory sleeps, when its eyes are bandaged, and when it wakes up. The Delhi Police, which stood by seeing the mayhem, are now arresting the victims. Sedition all around, you’d think the ISI was mustering forces for a running battle with the Home Ministry in February even as Donald Trump was landing here. Minority members are being thrown in jail now — you see, memory has woken up from its slumber. They arrested a 27-year-old student, Safoora Zargar, from Jamia Millia, ‘now in the second trimester of her pregnancy’, says a news report, for her alleged role in the Delhi riots. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act has been brought in. She could be released on bail, but the court would have none of it. You can’t defy the state, the holy of holies. Covid-19 was the perfect cover, the fog under which the state could go around arresting students, without any hullabaloo from the press — far too busy with the virus. Will this be the post-corona norm, arrest victims and not a sneeze directed at those who took part in the onslaught? They wore masks sir, how could they be identified?

The Pulitzer prize for three photographers for Feature photography must have cheered some Kashmiris in lockdown and ‘accelerated the grimace’ of others at Gupkar Road. The three were awarded for ‘striking images of life’, which means snapping protesting people, even a masked man throwing a stone at an armoured car. They are supposed to have photographed surreptitiously. A protest march may not reflect the true picture (whatever that is), but outsiders fall for it. And the Kashmir valley faced the prospect of both the constitutional knockdown and a virus lockdown getting mixed up. The Valley has been refractory since 1989. The Indian state has become lately an expert in finding solutions. So Delhi found a municipal solution to the problem of Article 370. It found a ‘seditional’ (pardon my English) solution for those who oppose Delhi and hence are locked up under sedition clauses; and earlier the state found a ‘Balakot’ solution for dipping electoral prospects. Cheers for these tactical victories. All in all, a first class exhibition of legerdemain.

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