The Covid-19 lockdown changed the way we look at our world—an unprecedented global event that compelled us to pause our lives and stay in our homes. For some, it was the longest time they had spent with their families since school. It made us cautious of our surroundings and appreciative of our lives. Week after week there was a new trend on social media—from Dalgona coffee to Banana bread—as the world jumped on the trending bandwagon and rushed to join the furore; our joie de vivre as unchallenged as the pandemic. Now, as we stagger back to normalcy, it is worth revisiting a few lessons from lockdown that we failed to learn— the lessons that we should have taken with us back into the real world.
1. Acknowledging our Elitism & Classism
As a society, we are usually ignorant about the realities of others but that changed to some extent during the pandemic. During the lockdown, it was easy to identify and call out our privilege because providing a visibly stark contrast were the people who were forced to walk home in the scorching heat due to lack of food and money. We absolved ourselves of responsibility (and guilt) by being grateful for our privileges (loudly and often on social media) but we did not do anything to change our mentality. While the public outrage at the time forced the government to help the migrant labourers get home by providing transport and shelter, their needs and lives have once again been pushed into oblivion.
As various phases of lockdown ended and our routines started getting back to normal, so did our hypocrisy. Recognizing this hypocrisy now is an essential responsibility. In the daily rut of our lives, it is not as easy to be ‘benevolent’ and empathetic with those who are less privileged. Our elitism demands work from the labourers now that the lockdown is over.
During the lockdown, there were cries of “Disease does not discriminate” ringing from the privileged class—a faux outrage on behalf of the less privileged. And yet, after the reopening of our society, their treatment once again has become one where they have to prove their worthiness as deserving recipients of our kindness. The poor now have to fight for their dignity because of a disease that was brought to their doorstep by the wealthy. The stereotype that class determines hygiene also has unfortunately survived the lockdown which makes the oft repeated acknowledgement of class-caste privilege all the more hollow.
One’s social position determines their treatment in the post-lockdown society as all pretenses of ‘being united’ fade away and we’re all complicit in this structure.
2. Distancing from Casteism
Social distancing took a whole new meaning during this pandemic which was exacerbated post the lockdown. The ugly head of casteism reared its head once more in the post-closure era where people from lower castes were ruthlessly discriminated against because they are perceived as ‘unclean’ by the upper castes. Once the cities opened up, social contact once again drew the invisible boundaries defined by caste. The term ‘social distancing’ encouraged the people from upper castes to socially and physically distance away from the supposedly unclean people. Even the term itself—social distancing—and the language used during the lockdown, shows that we are far from being free of our prejudices.
Our society which was supposedly outraged at the migrant labourers being sprayed with chemical disinfectant is the same one that is now forcing domestic and essential workers to take Covid tests before entering their houses because inbuilt prejudices compel them to put their own safety over the dignity of others.
Also read: How Casteist is this Pandemic?
3. Environment And Sustainability
“The world is healing. We are the virus”
The country saw historically low levels of pollution during lockdown with the industries, transport, etc. at a standstill. Several parts of UP, Bihar and West Bengal got a breathtaking view of the himalayas from their backyard. Wild animals began to venture into cities and dolphins returned to the Mumbai docks. We marvelled at the beauty of nature during the lockdown, but did we do anything to preserve it?
Did we personally change anything in our own lifestyle post the lockdown?
In 2015, the revolutionary (albeit idealistic) Paris Agreement was signed by 195 countries as a pledge to fight climate change which had a target global warming reduction of 1.5°C. Did you know that this lockdown, when most of the world stayed locked away in their homes and no industrial activity took place, was the only time that the world matched their target of the Paris Agreement? The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that the world will use 6% less this year—equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India and only if this continues every year from now, will it result in net-zero emissions by 2050.
While photo challenges flooded social media platforms and everyone jumped to post their “10 pictures from school days”, there were no challenges about the decisions that each one of us could change in our own lives to make sure that we were moving towards environmental sustainability. With medical masks washing up on beaches everyday and our recent return to ignorance, it is abundantly clear that we do not give the environment any more thought than something whose sole purpose is to provide beauty in our lives.
We forgot that the beautiful views of nature that we were enjoying should not have been a temporary glimpse. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten that we are not entitled to, nor do we own the beauty of nature; it is not for us to goggle at while going back to destroying it at the next moment. Our awe of nature cannot be transient. While we cannot tackle climate change alone, we can each do our part to ensure that our own lives are as ingrained with nature as we are impressed with it.
4. Gender Roles in the Household
“I did not know my wife did so much work at home along with her office. Helping her now makes me feel very happy”, claimed several loud husbands during the lockdown. The problematic view of domestic work being the woman’s domain of responsibility played out even as we stayed home where the men ‘helped out’ their wives in the chores of the house they both share. Shared responsibility it seems, was just a fleeting moment of ‘benevolence’ for men and does not seem to have permeated sufficiently to the post-lockdown society as a way of living.
Gender roles of men and women within the household which to some extent got demolished during the lockdown have gone back to status quo. In fact, more women are expected to leave their jobs in order to take care of their houses whereas men do not have this expectation. This pandemic gave us the time to recreate our own dynamics and let go of traditional gender roles and responsibilities and it is imperative for us to continue to do so.
5. Empathy and Treatment of Domestic Workers
The spread of the virus and the subsequent lockdown forced us to reduce our contact with the outside world. In this trying time, people had new-found respect for their domestic workers. Their importance and hard-work was being recognized as people were forced to take over the household responsibilities. However, the respect and appreciation it seems, was a hollow gesture.
A recent study showed that 85% of domestic workers were not paid during the pandemic. Domestic workers, predominantly women, were ready to give up and move back home due to partial payment or non-payment of their salaries. Despite verbal appreciation for their work, most employers decided to remove them from work or pay them meagre salaries which were insufficient for them. Around 38% of domestic workers faced problems trying to find food during the pandemic due to the lack of funds.
It was not just money that these workers saw a dearth of. Social stigma and caste discrimination made them see humiliation and lack of respect. Out of the few who were paid, some of the employers threw the money from their balconies to avoid coming in contact. Post-lockdown, this behaviour has only intensified. Now that people are coming in contact with their domestic workers, societies are demanding that domestic workers provide Covid test results to prove that they are not infected—a courtesy they are not willing to reciprocate.
The lack of respect and appreciation that our domestic workers face is disheartening to see, especially after a lockdown which should have made us realise our oppressive dependence on them and their well-being.
6. Treatment of Essential workers
Another sector of workers who were applauded during the lockdown but were treated inhumanely in reality were the essential workforce. Not only were doctors, vegetable sellers, cleaners, policemen and other essential workers abused, thrown out of their homes and discriminated against, but the protection and additional benefits provided to them remained only honorary. While they were hailed as heroes, little was done from any side in terms of behaviour or material benefits. Teachers, who took the pain of learning and educating through virtual classrooms, for many of whom the transition to technology was a mammoth task, were instead bullied and harassed by students and parents alike.
The treatment of our essential workers leaves much to be desired for and needs to be addressed with respect and compassion.
7. Understanding Mental health of family members
Mental health of family members has always been a topic best left ignored, not always out of malice but simply to take the easier way out. We talk about actions and behaviours and gossip, but feelings and boundaries are not something families are good at discussing. This pandemic forced a lot of people back home after years of living away from their families and while for some this was a good thing, for others it was much harder.
Families in India are not fond of the concept of privacy which can have an adverse effect on people who are undertaking their own mental battles on a regular basis. Pressure and mental health are not concepts that are easy to broach and while during the lockdown, families were forced into the space with each other, which inevitably led to fights and confronting of issues, the opening up of society has once again given everyone an escape route.
While some families can be part of the problem, a majority of them are simply ignorant. The recent death by suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput brought up the topic of mental health among families but a lot of it still tainted with prejudices and blame.
The solution is by no means barging into each other’s vicinity to resolve issues but to approach the topic of mental health with sensitivity. People in your own family are not immune to the rigours and doubts of life and learning how to open up a channel for dialogue, no matter where you live, can be the best thing that can happen to a struggling family member or a friend. Needless to say, this is not applicable to all families but the core lesson needs to be the effort of understanding and normalising discussions around mental health.
As few states contemplate another lockdown, we must consider if we need to reestablish the status quo. We went into this pandemic as an uncertain society and we came out with a lot of behaviours and social structures unchanged. It is time to reinvent our society starting with reinventing ourselves. It is time to start recognising the imbalances of power and working towards correcting it in our own lives.
The Covid-19 crisis changed the way we look at our world. Or did it?
Featured Image Source: Deccan Herald