Empathy vs. Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone disproportionately and unfairly. Health care workers face the harsh realities of the virus head-on. Teachers have had to adapt their years of experience gained from conventional teaching to suit online classes. Millions face the harsh reality of poverty and hunger everyday. Millions have lost their hard-earned jobs. Businesses have been forced to shut down. Hate crimes against groups of society that are baselessly and cruelly accused of spreading the virus have drastically increased. Mental health issues have risen and fueled by isolation, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. More than 150 million people have gone and continue to battle with this invincible enemy. More than 3 million people have lost their lives because of this virus. Families have lost their loved ones and the world has lost countless dreamers. This virus cossets no one.  

Early notions such as the pandemic would be ephemeral and infections were punitive for those who flouted the necessary precautions and rules have diminished during the ongoing second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. In my opinion, this is due to a rise in empathy amongst the people of India. Simply put, empathy is the ability of a living being to understand and share the feelings of another living being. Colloquially, it is referred to as “putting oneself in someone else’s shoes” 

The Government of India has had no shortage of opportunities to show empathy and alleviate the suffering of Indians. The Government has neglected its duty to serve the country and as Arundhati Roy put it, has committed a crime against humanity. The government has failed on many fronts. I would like to highlight a few that showcase an egregious lack of empathy. 

Firstly, the poorly planned nationwide lockdown, which was imposed with a mere 4 hours of notice, left thousands of migrant workers helpless, stranded, and vulnerable. With no help from the government, these migrant workers bravely decided to walk back to their villages. This lockdown was stained by police brutality and hate crimes against people that just wanted to survive. The lack of condemnation and apology by the government showcases a lack of empathy. 

Secondly, in an attempt to alleviate the suffering of Indians, the government launched the risibly named PM CARES (Citizens Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) fund and its primary objective was “to deal with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide relief to the affected”. The fact that a government that has never shied away from repeatedly putting their plans such as “Make in India”, “Swachh Bharat”, “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao”, etc on the highest possible pedestal has created such an opaque and inaccessible fund shows a lack of empathy. 

Thirdly, the government’s actions before the second wave hit can be described as complacent, incompetent, and overconfident. On the 21st of February 2021, a resolution was passed in the BJP National Office Bearers meeting that “unequivocally hails its leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation in the fight against Covid”. Additionally, the government decided to export vaccines to other countries without ensuring adequate supply was available for Indian citizens. This not only leaves Indian citizens in danger but also betrays all the countries that depended on “the pharmacy of the world” as vaccine exports were abruptly stopped. None of this would’ve happened if the government showed empathy towards the people of India and established appropriate contingent plans.

Fourthly, while the second wave virulently spread and claimed thousands of lives, the government showed no empathy. While a strong case can be made to prohibit sitting union ministers from campaigning in elections that they are not contesting during a crisis, a complete stop to the democratic process would have been detrimental. The occurrence of huge rallies during a pandemic is untenable and all politicians are guilty of this. The myopic and unsympathetic nature of the government is accentuated by the needless comments that they have made throughout the pandemic.  

Finally, the iniquitous lack of cooperation between the centre and states to fight this pandemic showcases a pathetic lack of empathy. The failure to come up with a comprehensive and transparent plan for the distribution and supply of oxygen and vaccines has caused unimaginable suffering to the people of India. Any attempt by the government to set aside pride and partisanship, as leaders have done before when facing a crisis, and listen to good advice and imploration would be a sign of empathy. No such attempt has been made. Their lack of action and belated action have had fatal effects, but the government has not shown a sign of remorse or empathy.    

But all is not lost. There have been instances in which the government has shown empathy. Most states have decided to offer a Covid-19 vaccine for free for different age groups. The central government also has plans to allow final-year MBBS students to join Covid duty before completing the NEET exam. This will drastically reduce the strain faced by health care workers taking care of Covid patients. The government of Karnataka also announced that it would form a team of 15,000 civil defence volunteers in Bengaluru for tracking and tracing Covid-19 patients. This is a significantly more empathetic and humane approach to managing the crisis than the sadistic and vicious approach used last year that made victims of Covid-19 feel like criminals.

However, none of these actions are as consequential and empathetic as the profound empathy amongst the ordinary people of India. Early displays of empathy were seen when people started taking care of stray animals during the lockdown. Furthermore, countless rations and donations were given to the stranded migrant workers to help them cope with the dire situation they faced. From providing meals, oxygen, assistance to the elderly and handling cremations, Gurudwaras around the country have been the perfect embodiment of empathy. Conspicuously, the empathy and equanimity shown by the youth of India has truly been remarkable. With the help of social media, the relentless youth are constantly doing their part by helping those in need. 

Empathy also provides a strong basis for our everyday fight against Covid-19. Precautions like wearing a mask, staying indoors as much as possible, social distancing when outside, and getting vaccinated as soon as possible would not be flouted if people were more empathetic. For those of us who have not been directly affected by the virus yet, empathy goes a long way in helping and caring about those who have. 

Perhaps, the most optimistic and quixotic change that we can hope for during this precarious and seemingly inexorable situation is the crippling of traditional barriers that have separated us before. If we, as ordinary citizens of India, continue to disregard gender, caste, religion, wealth, age, ethnicity, language, political ideology, and other barriers when helping those affected by this pandemic, we could truly be united in this fight against the invisible enemy. Together, we shall overcome.  

Categories: Editorial

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