Read the article at https://civilsocietyonline.com/column/village-voices/the-virus-unites-us/
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A lot has changed in the last one month. The COVID crisis has thrown up challenges both on the public health as well as in the personal front for each of us. We not only are doing our bit in handling this problem but are also coping with the disarray in our own lives. Little more than a month ago I had the opportunity to visit the small 2 acre land cultivated by Bommi, an indigenous Kadukuruba tribal woman in a remote part of Mysuru district. She proudly showed me the high yielding ragi (millet) that she had cultivated this year. This was the first time that anybody in the area had grown this variety and she explained to me that the harvest expected in the next one month would be three times what she used to get with the traditional ragi that she used to sow in the earlier years. She was excited as she told me that she would be sharing the seeds from her crop with her neighbours and make sure that they also benefited from her experiment. She was looking forward to all the friends and relatives helping her with harvesting and threshing the crop. Neither Bommi me nor any of us could imagine that a month can be a long time in our lives. Today she is finding it difficult to mobilise her community to help her save her crop. The crisis has not just thrown life out of gear for her but for millions of people around the world. Not only has she to worry about the virus and finding the soap and fetching the water to keep washing her hands but the social distancing meant having no one to help her harvest her crop too.
While the crisis has exposed the vulnerability of governments, of health systems, global bodies and of each one of us, it has also brought out the indomitable spirit of humans, the leadership of the heads of some nations, the collective resolve of the scientific community, the softer side of the business world and the goodness in each of our hearts. Though our health systems have not been prepared for such an pandemic, the courage and spirit of our front line health workers, security agencies and volunteers are exemplary.
From social distancing, to changing the way we greet each other, to changing personal habits and behaviours, to recognising the importance of professions that we took for granted, things are not the same anymore. This crisis has defined a new normal for all of us and it is impressive to see how each one of us are adapting and coping with the several demands that are imposed on us. For the privileged few, this may be the time to catch up on one’s reading, to try new online courses or just spend quality time with the family. For the young, it may be the time to discover new online games and catching up with their favourite shows on Netflix or Amazon. For a few others, the boredom and isolation can tax their mental health. For several IT employees, it may just be the invasion of their office into their homes. Whether we call it work from home or working at home, things are no longer the same anymore.
But for people like Bommi, this new normal is making demands that few of us can relate to or comprehend. The only petty shop that was close to her home has now run out of stock as the local grocer is no longer able to travel to Mysuru city to get them refilled. While nature has been kind and she is able to pick several ‘greens’ in the fields around, she worries on how she will feed her family this coming year with the harvest not likely to happen on time. Direct bank transfers are a godsend but then people like her are worried as the bank is not open for her to draw cash. The manager and the clerk used to travel each day from the nearest town and are not able to do so now. While digital transactions and online purchases have become a way for life for urbanites, people like Bommi operate in a world where physical proximity is the norm for both social and economic sustenance. She prays that none of her family members fall sick as there is no way of reaching the hospital 20 kms away. Lack of public transport has now exposed how vulnerable our poor with no private means of transportation are.
While the country’s economy and plight of the migrant workers are being debated on television, what is not spoken about is how important the little money that these workers sent back to their families in the villages is. People like Bommi can today talk of agriculture only because of the money that their children send back from distant cities. While our public agencies are responding to the crisis, we need to ensure that the needs of both our urban and rural areas are addressed. Geographic disadvantages will now be more visible as India learns to manage the public health challenge of her rural hinterland. We also need to keep in mind that only when our farmers continue to do what they have been doing will the rest of India have food to eat.
This is also the time for us to understand the need and importance of how deeply intertwined and interdependent our lives have become. The more we practice social isolation, the more we can recognize the need and importance of several people who have quietly kept society moving forward – whether it is our daily newspaper boy, or the milk man, or the domestic help, the barber down the street or the security personnel outside our apartments, or the farmers toiling in the sun every day – each one is critical and we now need to ensure that we show our togetherness with them all. The virus does not differentiate between the rich and the poor, the urbanite or the rural dweller, between the doctor or the patient, the merchant and the working class, the employer and the employee, between the several castes that India has, or between the public and the private sector…then why should we as human beings do so? Let us resolve to use this opportunity to dissolve all barriers of separation and unite together, not just to fight the virus but all the other inequities that we have created for ourselves.