Within the span of the last week, acclaimed author Arundhati Roy published two articles addressed to the government of the nation in the light of the rapidly worsening conditions of Covid-19 which has left us grappling for breath. While the first article published in The Guardian “We Are Witnessing a Crime Against Humanity”, was one of critical rebuke assessing our gradual descent into the disaster we are currently living, one fatal mistake after another, her second article in Scroll.in took on a strikingly different tone of beseeching the government to take responsibility and remove itself from power. This contrast in intonation from the same person while addressing the same raging issue, becomes especially critical in asserting the immediacy of the situation, even as she says in the latter article,”Never would people like myself have imagined the day would come when we would find ourselves appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for anything. Personally, I would rather have gone to prison than do that.”
As these articles have become a week old and have thereby succumbed to the natural tendency of news to gloss over the old with the dazzle of fresh events, irrespective of neither the persisting relevancy of the former nor the irrelevancy of the latter. It is at this juncture that Roy’s articles need to be resurrected and held in the light of what they point towards – something that would have saved our nation had the government realised it a year back, something that would also be the light at the end of the tunnel if the government were to realise it now – the utmost necessity of the ruling government to LISTEN, and the frightening adamancy with which it does not.
The latest Lancet editorial dated 8 May has laid out the facts which clearly identify the cause of our current desperation to the nonchalant dismissal of medical statistics and expert opinions in favour of keeping the public blissfully unaware by means of blocking criticism coupled with a premature celebration of victory as the second wave was gearing up for attack in plain sight. The article puts forth the estimations by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations predicting 1 million deaths by August 1, which is horrifyingly close to predictions of 2 million deaths which was scoffed at by our Prime Minister as can be seen quoted in Roy’s first article.
The opposition also addressed this concern as Rahul Gandhi critiqued the “hubris in declaring a premature victory“ which was the torchbearer in leading the nation through religious festivals and an election campaign which held nothing back, resulting in the devastating amount of transmission we now see. In addition to conveniently ignoring constructive criticism, the warnings and suggestions to impose major restrictions given by scientific advisers set up by the government were also ignored as per the report by Reuters.
The ‘super-spreader event‘ or the Kumbh Mela was allowed to play out in order to favour personal and political interest at a time when nothing but the social and human interest should have mattered. The loss of Hindu supporters and voters for the party upon cancellation of the event weighed more on the skewed moral scales of the ruling authorities than listening to advice which could have avoided the uncontrolled transmission. Adding garlands to the philosophy to the party with opening up of help desks and allotting medical equipment for cows does not serve the citizens just as adhering to treatments which are not scientifically backed using cow dung and cow urine while allocating facilities for the same does not.
The dismissal of expert opinion and advice goes along with actively blocking criticism meant to improve policies and also inform the public about where the governance was falling short. This was evident with the prompt removal of tweets which were critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic with truly remarkable speeds which would have been impressive had it been for implementing positive action after reflecting on these remarks.
This brazen refusal to own up or even acknowledge their shortcomings is where Roy’s second article becomes crucial in its content and tone which clearly implies the futility of merely pointing out flaws and expecting responsible action that is expected out of a governing body. Her request for the ruling body to step down is simultaneously a sad acknowledgement of the complete loss of faith in the capacity of the government to lead as well to listen. This article was met with a considerable amount of responses from the public which ranged from whole-hearted agreement to dissatisfaction with her apparently opportunistic attack on the government. But the gist of this comments section pointed to the crucial questions – “Then who?” And “Then what?” These may not be questions which can find immediate answers amidst a raging pandemic, but our pitiable progress has forced these questions to mind and the doubts leading up to them for quite some time now.
At this juncture, the present government has reached the point where it has to earn the right to answer these questions with immediate actions prompted by listening to people who are ready to guide our nation out of its suffering. There have been several notable suggestions which have been released by various sources in order to contain and overcome present and future challenges.
- The government’s top scientific adviser Dr. Vijay Raghavan has opined that a “deadly third wave can be dodged” if necessary measures are taken, which include effective vaccine distribution at every level of social administration.
- Doctors are also giving out information about the infrastructure needed pertaining to surge capacity building in order to house the influx of patients which require the attention of the government as opposed to the definitely ‘non-essential’ construction projects it is focusing on instead.
- At a scientific level, viral mutations which develop resistance against vaccines can be tackled by developing designer therapeutic antibodies which could help to come up with effective and affordable vaccines according to Narinder Kumar Mehta, an honorary emeritus scientist of the Indian Council of Medical Research.
- Mehta also adds that identifying disease hotspots and vaccinating every susceptible individual, regardless of age group would also go a long way to contain the spread.
- Suggesting a sensory approach to detach human behaviour from being numb and accustomed to the crisis situation owing to the lax protocol observed around them and an overload of pandemic updates on a daily basis, transparency regarding the seriousness of the situation is key to involving the society in containing the disease.
- A communication campaign that ropes in public health professionals would ensure ground level concerns being addressed and making sure large scale public events are restricted before ‘criminalising’ individual behaviour and curfews would yield more good according to Anand Krishnan, professor of community medicine, AIIMS.
- Experts including AIIMS director Dr. Randeep Glueria and Medata Chairman Dr. Naresh Trehan have listed out helpful instructions for the public and local administrative bodies and some of these include recommendations to district officials to monitor district positivity and advising against hoarding of Remdisevir drug and oxygen cylinders causing shortage for those who cannot recover at home.
There is no dearth of helpful sources and critical suggestions to listen to and Roy’s articles serve to highlight the consequences of our government not doing so until now and the necessity to do so starting immediately. The failure to listen yet again would leave them with no morally right choice but to step down for the sake of an entire nation’s populace and the author wording her last article in the tone that she employed only adds to the immediacy of our national predicament.
Featured Image Source: Bloomberg Quint