The ‘New Normalcy’ that beckons

By Toki Blah

I got a call from a close friend the other day and we got talking on the mobile. It’s the way we interact with people nowadays even ones we are close and intimate with. Please, for both our sakes, speak to one another from a distance. Calling on people, visiting people and getting together, are things of the past. Socialising, the way it used to be done before, is now a four letter word. It is shunned like the plague. Social distancing is the new mantra we have all learnt to respect. So learn to live with it! Grown up children living away from their aged parents hesitate to visit them, not because of indifference, disregard or negligence but because of the fear it might cause their parents more harm than good. Grandparents scared to hug their grandchildren, as they might catch the Corona virus from such gestures of affection. There is total confusion and social disturbance regarding the transformation society is going through. Yet amidst this bewilderment there is one dominant prevailing thought. Everyone wonders when will all this end? Everyone yearns and prays for the return of the good old days. When will this dreaded disease go away? Will it ever?

Headlines of local news dailies and front page news are hogged by the lockdown and its consequences. The latest uproar is over the return of the stranded Meghalayans from other parts of India and over arrangements by the administration to receive them. Instead of joy and elation, it is fear, apprehension, anger and accusations bordering on panic that greets these returnees. Here are these inconsiderate people from Red Zones, Orange Zones etc., returning to upset the health status quo. But let’s be clear what we are talking about. Some of them might prove Covid positive but the returnees are not an army invading Meghalaya. They are not the enemy. Instead they are friends, kith and kin, neighbours; citizens of this state scared, bewildered and traumatised over what has happened to them and simply thankful to be back home amidst family and loved ones. We will take care of them. So why are we treating them askance? Perhaps the answer lies in the unfounded belief and hope that once the lockdown is lifted, the disease will disappear and things will return to normal and therefore there was no need or hurry to return home. Let me assure the reader, however unpleasant it may be, that this is sheer make-believe. Nothing can be further from the truth. Lockdowns are designed to simply slow down the spread of the disease. Lockdowns won’t eradicate Covid 19.  On the contrary Meghalaya should now prepare itself for a spike and upward surge of the disease once lockdown is lifted. It has to brace itself for more deaths and losses in the community once the lockdown ends. It has to prepare itself for the far reaching and harmful consequences the lockdown will have on our economy. This is reality. It’s the distasteful truth but it has to be said and we need to organise ourselves for such an eventuality.

The second truth no one is talking about but which we have to accept is that we cannot barricade and isolate ourselves from the outside world forever. Despite the virus, life has to go on. People need to travel; to work; to interact; to socialise; livelihoods, business and employment need to be restored; the economy needs to be revived and sustained. Economic normalcy has to be vitalised and sooner than later we will have to open up again. Once this takes place, the chances of Covid 19 taking root permanently in society and turning endemic cannot be ruled out. This is a reality that is looming large in the horizon. A disease is termed endemic when it is constantly present among a large section of the community.  Example – malaria. In the absence of a vaccine to either prevent or cure, the risk of Covid 19 becoming endemic in our state increases hundred fold. Are we prepared for this? The stark reality is that as of today the whole of society depends on Government for the management and control of the disease. We cannot deny that the Government under severe constraints is doing whatever it can to meet these social expectations. But a time will soon come when the disease can no longer be kept under Government wraps. Once Covid 19 turns endemic there will occur a paradigm shift in the responsibility of containing the disease. The responsibility for protection shifts from the Government to the individual. The citizens will have to take responsibility over the management of the ailment, be this at the personal, family or community level. The people of Meghalaya must prepare themselves for this as it is bound to happen sooner than later. We need a plan of action; a set of SOPs; preconceived protocols to face such an eventuality.

It will be totally imprudent at this juncture to speak of a post Covid era. We don’t know when but simply hope that it does happen soon. We can and should however talk and plan for a post lockdown epoch as this has to happen. Health wise we must be prepared as pointed out above for the mutation of the disease from being a pandemic to being endemic and this with all the misery and grief that will accompany it. The greater tragedy will however not be from the health perspective, however distasteful that might be, but from the impact the lockdown will have on the economy of the country as a whole and on Meghalaya in particular. We are a resource as well as financially deficient state. Most of our sustenance comes from the centre. Now if the economy of the country begins to dry up so will the percentage of assistance Delhi will be able to extend to this region and its people. It will adversely affect investments. It will severely hamper growth and development as well as the demand and supply side of the economy. Jobs and livelihood options will be severely curtailed; poverty will increase; unemployment will hit the ceiling; food scarcity will prevail; the threat of starvation might arise. The adverse aftermath of the lockdown on the education and social sectors has yet to be assessed. It is hoped that the Chief Minister’s Economic Development Task Force, recently set up by the Govt to look into the economic aspect of our Covid 19 lockdown will give serious thought to the issues raised above.

            Aside from the above there is urgent need for an agency/organisation/institution with strong grassroots connection to tutor, enlighten and educate our communities on the new survival strategies that this present crisis will impose on our future daily lives. The good old days are now gone. They will not return and things will not be the same again, ever. A new normalcy will set in where we will have to learn to live with new challenges be they health, social or economy related. A new system of governance will have to be devised and the more community driven it is the better it will be for all concerned. Less Government with more governance will be the demand of the day. Tradition that is strong and vibrant in a tribal society such as ours will have to be fortified, reinforced and strengthened to make it relevant to the needs of the times. Instead of implementing governance, Government should now learn the art of outsourcing it to agencies that have stronger society roots and better community connections. Facilitating governance instead of implementing it shall be the new order. Here is where Meghalaya shall have to give a serious thought on how it plans to legally cloak and empower its traditional grassroots village councils (Dorbar Shnongs). Forget the VAB. Forget opportunistic and politically motivated attempts at reforms by defunct constitutional institutions who have miserably failed to deliver in their 70 years of existence. Dorbars on the other hand serve the people. They need empowerment to make them relevant to the people’s needs. Politics should now take a backseat. Some serious planning and policy decisions, cutting across party lines is called for and I do hope our politicians and political leaders rise to the occasion and don’t fail us on this one.

(The author is President of ICARE)

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.