Unfolding Covid tragedy
From abroad, the Covid tragedy unfolding right now in India is heart-breaking. We feel helpless as we watch the agony of people losing loved ones, after begging in vain for oxygen. Our hearts ache as we sense the funereal atmosphere of Delhi, and the sepulchral gloom enshrouding the country.
The timorous self-confidence of Indians recovering from centuries of invasions by foreign forces, may appear like narcissistic nationalism to the west, especially to the Left, which favours the universal at the cost of the particular. But to the perspicacious, this neophyte confidence was long overdue. Now under the ravages of this deadly virus, this faltering confidence is giving way to the old despair and diffidence wrought by poverty, colonialism, etc.
Yet, like all appearances, this one too comes with a grain of truth. For, alongside this faltering confidence, we have a boastful anti-colonialism that tramples upon true cosmopolitanism. We have as well, a capitalistic braggadocio that is very Trumpian, and hence western in origin. One sees this unfeeling quest for Indian authenticity in Mr. Modi and his followers — in their pre-second-surge one-upmanship with respect to the west and in their triumphant crowing towards western sufferers of Covid.
If anything, this crisis has revealed the emptiness of narcissistic nationalism. Where are all the patriots now that India needs them? Why are they not emptying their coffers to help those in need? Where are the nationalistic Modi worshipping diasporic Indians in the west? Why are they not emptying their coffers to send aid to India? Typically such nationalists are schizoid in their attitudes. Incapable of true cosmopolitanism, they draw their LOVE for India from their HATRED for the west.
One sees in this crisis, both the light and shadow characteristic of the Indian civilization. On the one hand, man’s love for fellow man, as strangers console one another in Delhi and elsewhere. On the other hand, the brutal callousness of the empowered towards the disempowered so typical of India. That Mr. Modi cannot feel the pain of his adoring masses, proves he is every bit as much a cult leader as was Mr. Trump.
An invisible virus has accomplished what diplomacy, trade, and goodwill have failed to do. It has united humanity. For those of us who are outside, it is heart-warming to know of all the nations (including western nations) that are leaping forward to help Indians. Unfortunately, it is part of the consciousness of the oppressed, to act entitled with respect to the oppressor — demanding help from the very people they fear and loathe. The tragedy of desperate migrants trying to flee former colonies to come to the west reveals this contradiction in neo-colonialism. But one cannot be truly free until one overcomes all sense of inferiority and entitlement. It is therefore my earnest hope that Indians will be grateful to the foreigners now rushing in to help India. This proves that in the end we are one humanity.
Vaccine Refusal – Shillong’s Shame
Shillong is known as the education hub of the Northeast. Yet many of the residents of this highly educated city, known for its music, culture and sophistication, have refused to take the Covid vaccination. The lament by the DC, herself a progressive and enlightened leader, and the official appeal by the Chief Secretary, both of which appeared on the front page of the Shillong Times of May 3, 2021, should not have been necessary.
Like many others in this city, I have listened to theories of misinformation and dark conspiracy, circulating among relatives, neighbours and even respected figures. A doctor friend of mine, himself vaccinated, could not persuade his parents or other family members to take the jab. They belong to a conservative church, some of whose members openly idolise Trump on Facebook. Of course, now we know that Donald and Melania have quietly taken the vaccination. A neighbour has declared that Covaxin is not to be trusted as it is “Modi’s medicine”. Most worrisome of all is the refusal of many health workers in Shillong hospitals who refuse the vaccination.
Such attitudes hark back to the Dark Ages, when church leaders imprisoned Galileo for saying the earth revolved around the sun, and priests treated epilepsy by casting out the devil. Shakespeare makes many references to the plague in his plays, having lived his entire life in the shadow of successive outbreaks. During his time civic officials collected weekly data from parish death registers. When those deaths surpassed thirty, they banned assemblies, feasts, archery contests, and other mass gatherings. Since it was believed that it was impossible to become infected during the act of worship, church services were not included in the ban.
Pope Francis has been vaccinated, calling it a lifesaving, ethical obligation. In a TV interview, he called on everyone to get the vaccine, saying “It’s an ethical choice, because you are also playing with the lives of others.” The Church of England has called upon all its members to be vaccinated and has offered churches to be used as vaccination centres.
The piece by Rev Lyndan Syiem in yesterday’s Shillong Times provides wonderful counsel for Christians, showing that spirituality can coexist with science, and that common sense and social responsibility must prevail. Unfortunately, there are influencers in the church who claim that divine interventions will protect the faithful. This is no different from pilgrims at the Kumbh Mela who believe that the holy Ganges will protect them from disease.
We need church leaders and other leading citizens to come forward and strongly appeal to the public through their churches, social media and their circles of influence to take the vaccine. It is only through vaccination that the pandemic will be eventually controlled.
Glenn C. Kharkongor
Angels of mercy
The news item “City Gurudwara offers oxygen langar” (ST. May 2, 2021) is not only comforting but inspirational as well and an example for all to emulate. Last year too the members of the Sikh Community have demonstrated their humanitarian concerns and fellow feelings. The oxygen crisis the country is facing today creates fear and apprehension. As our state is also seeing a surge in positive cases, the support system from good Samaritans like the Sikhs is definitely reassuring.
The virus makes no distinction and hits anyone anywhere, irrespective of faith, community, age, class, caste, etc. It is a leveller that is mutating rapidly and frighteningly. As we fear physical contact lest we contract the deadly virus, our frontline workers, doctors, nurses, municipal staff, and many others are in the forefront. They deserve respect and prayers. Likewise, the Sikh Community who have once again led the way to support those in need deserve our gratitude. Let us pray for each other especially for those who are working relentlessly in the service of humankind and let us be more vigilant and extra careful to save ourselves, our loved ones and our frontline workers.