The human beings at this critical juncture of their existence are back to their foundational nature. A tautological response to the corona virus has emerged. While some sentient humans are busy trying to figure out a way to produce a quick treatment and save precious human lives, others are busy in blame game. Entire countries are looking for a scapegoat. Trump has given more than an indication of hitting back at China, Europe is building a case against the dragon. The European case is epitomized by the British Foreign Secretary when he said that it will not be ‘business as usual’ with China. A huge pushback is tangible against China in future. Then there is the pursuit of internal scapegoats. Within the affected nations also blames are passed back and forth. The ancient scapegoating mechanism has resurfaced. Basically, scapegoating is one of the foundations of human evolution. When anger cannot be vented at the thing itself (the virus in this case), then substitutes have to be found, and they come in various forms. And if these forms are not available, then they have to be invented. The virus is on a global tour in search of human lungs, perhaps because its home has been ruined; and in our inability to buck the trend of its spread, the rage is directed at each other. However, in all that something else is also surfacing, more prominently now than before.
This was the time of, as the current Pope said, of metanoia. A period of conversion, possibly a spiritual conversion, a transformation from one state of being to another. That is hardly anywhere visible, and may not be, unless we presume that we have magically been transported into Disneyland. The Chinese wet markets are reportedly still open. The moon will soon become a petrol station on the way to Mars. The garbage and refuse from the stay in Mars will be funneled to Earth. Here in India an isolated spit by a Muslim on the road is suspect. And our own Line of No Control is aflame, and crimson with human blood. Two types of conversions were expected from the pandemic; the ecological conversion and the human conversion. More urgently the ecological conversion because as they say God forgives always, human beings forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives. Recently, it was reported that a boat passed over the north pole without any ice to stop its movement. Since nature is bearing the brunt of the so-called human development, it has a way to teach a lesson. The virus is perhaps a weaponized response from nature. Also, a weapon to force reflection on the partition created between human beings (in the quiet of the homes which virus has enforced).
Long back Nani A Palkhiwala, a famous Parsi Jurist, and former ambassador to the USA, wrote a book called We the People. A central thesis of the book was that India is not just one country but it is made of two nations. There are two sets of rules for these two nations. They live in isolation of each other. They do not share much between them. There is a huge economic, emotional, political, and cultural gulf between them. This gap is increasing between the two nations. After the liberalization program which spread across the world, and brought India also within its ambit, the gulf between the two nations has further widened. When he wrote the book there were only a few Indian billionaires but today there are dozens. Nani was not a Marxist out to propagate the need for a violent upending of a system, but he was manifesting a reality that was ignored. The two nations that he was referring to were the nation of the rich and the nation of the poor. The corona virus has highlighted the partition of India (and the globe as well) into two nations. The lockdown dramatically picturizes these two nations.
Just a few days ago we saw a moving video of a poor man picking up milk from a road with his hands and putting in a polythene bag. The milk was flowing downwards. A few meters from the place where he was gathering milk in his hands, a dog was slurping on the same. The gap between a wandering dog and the poor is less than the gap between the rich and the poor. We saw how laborers are herded like sheep in Mumbai and Delhi, who want to go to their homes but are not allowed to move. They better die in their respective places than move out. On the other hand, buses were arranged for people to be transported to their homes, from one part of the country to the other. Even some airplanes are also carrying people to their homes. Those with connections to the higher echelons of power, the resourceful people who can easily bend the levers of power, care as much about the lockdown as the virus. Then there are VIP gates for some people to pass through, and bypass the tedious process of transit points (Our first positive case in Kashmir came by the VIP gate). The corona is magnifying for you the two worlds, the two nations, the gulf which exists between human beings. The Laxman Rekha between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the powerless was never so visible as it is today. The poor dare not cross this Rekha. The moment has arrived to acknowledge that the virus made the border between the nations discernible. There are no troops guarding this border because the relationship between the two nations is that of colony and empire.
Inequality is universal, just as hierarchy is innate to human existence but those have to be rooted in differential competences not open exploitation. Today some billionaires in the developed world own money equal to the GDP of scores of nations. There is no historical period which shows that equality has prevailed or hierarchies have been eliminated, but the gaps were minimal and can be minimized. Perhaps the virus has come to remind us, among other things, that the two worlds, two nations have to come closer with each other, and with the nature as well, in which the original home of virus existed.
Dr. Javaid Iqbal Bhat is Sr. Assistant Professor, South Campus, University of Kashmir.