What would Mahatma Gandhi have done, if he had faced the Covid-19 crisis? This is a topic social activist Dr Abhay Bang has explored in a report, published online in The Lancet on Friday, in which he has proposed a nine-point action programme, beginning with “freedom from fear”.
Dr Bang, who grew up in the Sevagram Ashram, Wardha, and whose work on childhood pneumonia and home-based newborn care helped shape global policy, told The Indian Express that Covid-19 pandemic, economic recession, and global warming are compounded by the “void of political and moral leadership”.
“In such a situation, Mahatma Gandhi would not merely preach. He would begin actions locally rather than chase the world to change it. Actions that initially may look small and silly – for instance picking a fistful of salt – that eventually changed history – would be among his priority,” said Dr Bang, who is the founder-director of Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH).
In the Lancet report, Dr Bang has written, “We are gripped more by the virus of fear than by the coronavirus, and this fear pandemic has paralysed the whole world. Gandhi would ask us to first shed this fear, as he asked the Indians to shed the fear of the British. Care of the sick: that was his natural instinct, expressed on innumerable occasions, from the Boer War, World War I, and during the epidemics in India, to his nursing of the sick in ashrams, including leprosy patients. People sick with Covid-19 need physical care, nursing, and medical care. Gandhi, without fear, while being fastidious about hygiene, hand washing and mask use, would personally nurse them.
“As a symbol of protest against the government, Gandhi, in his new Dandi March, would join the displaced urban labourers, hungry and humiliated, walking towards the villages they once left but dying on their way. Gandhi knows enough about the misery from his final days spent among the millions of displaced victims of the Partition of India.
“The fear of SARS-CoV-2 and the strict lockdown have forced people to shut their doors and shun contact with neighbours. Gandhi would not approve this and would most likely have launched a Satyagraha or civil disobedience by challenging the ghettos created by lockdown. It takes a Gandhi to take such a moral position,” Dr Bang said, adding that “today, almost everyone is untouchable due to the depth of alienation that the pandemic and fear have led us to”.
“Faced with the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global and national leadership has committed several blunders and changed the goalposts repeatedly, from no infection, to containment, to increasing the doubling time, to the present — learning to live with SARS-CoV-2. Without knowledge about a new disease, the errors of judgment are natural, but where is the honest admission of failure of the chosen strategy? Today, it is missing. Gandhi would do that. And, surprisingly, that would make people trust him even more,” wrote Dr Bang.
“While the final act would be that of prayer, Gandhi would remind us of the humaneness and stability of local production, local consumption, and local community of relationships. He called it Gram-Swaraj. We should not be waiting for Gandhi, rather act on what he would have done,” Dr Bang stated.
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