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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Social distancing is antithetical to festivals, but it is the only way

Almost all religious institutions have now been closed and no religious congregations are being allowed, not only in India but in most of the affected countries around the world. We can win only if we act with wisdom, alacrity and a dispassionate understanding of the preventive actions.

Written by M Venkaiah Naidu |
Updated: April 27, 2020 11:47:23 am
coronavirus, social distancing, coronavirus covid 19, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus precautions measure, physical distancing, M Venkaiah Naidu on corona crisis, social bonding, indian express The large congregation in Nizamuddin in Delhi brought this stark unpleasant reality to our attention. (File Photo/Representational)

We are today in the midst of a grave health crisis. The coronavirus continues to spread across the world. Hardly anyone is untouched by its extraordinary transmissibility. We, in India, like in other parts of the world, are trying to break this alarmingly speedy transmission through a national lockdown, social distancing and personal hygiene measures. Adherence to these new norms of social behaviour has yielded results. The number of cases and fatalities has shown a decline wherever there has been greater compliance. Conversely, there has been a surge wherever there was laxity and violation of prescribed preventive measures. The large congregation in Nizamuddin in Delhi brought this stark unpleasant reality to our attention. However, we should understand that this merely illustrates what can happen if we ignore the warning and slip into an apathetic or denial mode. We should read no more into this event and not let latent prejudices surface, resulting in totally unwarranted finger-pointing at any community. The entire community should not be blamed or viewed as the culprit because of the negligence of a few groups and individuals.

This is a massive disruption in our lives. Our socio-cultural life is enriched by festivals and cultural events in which we mingle with each other and celebrate together. Social distancing is antithetical to the spirit of bonhomie and the collective celebration of life. But, we have opted for this path because it is the only known path of containing the spread of this deadly virus. We have to put up with the milder disruptions in social, religious and cultural life to avoid a major catastrophe. We simply have to live with the situation where we cannot visit places of worship on festival days. We have to avoid congregations and social gatherings for some time to come. It is painful, but there is hardly any alternative.

The nature of this disease and the precautions required to be taken must be widely understood. Citizens must not be afraid or complacent. The severely affected should be given medical help. They should not be stigmatised and ostracised. Randeep Guleria, director of AIIMS, has said in a recent interview, that COVID-19 can be dealt with better if we encourage persons with symptoms to get tested rather than view them with suspicion and stigma. People, irrespective of social standing and religious beliefs, should seek medical attention.

Another facet of stigmatisation is the disturbing trend of sporadic attacks on medical personnel, especially those who are fighting on the frontlines and braving the tremendous risk of getting infected. There are quite a few instances of doctors, nurses, paramedical staff and other social workers being stigmatised and denied housing facilities and viewed with deep suspicion as carriers of the virus. This is truly unfortunate and deplorable, especially in a country that has traditionally had a highly reverential attitude towards doctors. Quite rightly, the government has made attacks against health professionals a cognisable, non-bailable offence, carrying imprisonment terms upto seven years. Hopefully, this will curb further violence against health professionals. Ignorance and prejudice, fear and suspicion, should be overcome through authentic and timely flow of information and new societal norms based on our ancient values must be restored.

I am happy that people at large are adhering to the guidelines. All religious leaders are moving away from dogmatic positions and are providing the guidance required to regulate the modes of worship in light of the present circumstances. Stigma and dogma are impediments that need to be removed. A more flexible, adaptable attitude to modify our social behaviour will enable us to effectively continue our war. Almost all religious institutions have now been closed and no religious congregations are being allowed, not only in India but in most of the affected countries around the world. We can win only if we act with wisdom, alacrity and a dispassionate understanding of the preventive actions. These actions cut across religious and regional boundaries. No community has any immunity against this pandemic.

I am happy that we are getting used to a subdued celebration of festivals like Rama Navami, Baisakhi, Easter and Ramzan. Let the spirit of religious sanctity and piety be preserved in our hearts and homes this year. After all, what we pray for is a world that is healthy for us and for entire humanity. As we begin the sacred month of Ramadan, I do hope that we all stay at home and pray for our families and fellow beings and hope that we overcome this challenge soon.

There are a number of challenges that the pandemic has forced us to confront. We are collectively finding answers to these ever evolving challenges. The Central and state governments as well as local bodies are reviewing the situation and taking well-considered decisions to mitigate the hardship. However, much more needs to be done.

We have apparently some more distance to cover. While the average daily growth in cases has been falling since the lockdown was imposed, we still have a rather high growth rate of around 8 per cent. We need to be vigilant. We must analyse the data in an objective manner and strategise further actions. We need to reinforce measures that cut off the transmission. We also need to step up humanitarian and welfare measures.

This is a moment for us to get our act together. We must distance ourselves physically to arrest the viral transmission. But, we need to come closer as human beings to render help where and when required. We must rediscover the true meaning of central religious tenets. I am hopeful that we shall stand united with an understanding of the real challenge ahead of us and have the collective commitment to act with wisdom to overcome the challenge. Let not differences among political parties come in the way of fighting this pandemic at any level.

Solidarity and alacrity at all levels can help us better navigate the current multi-dimensional crisis. The writer is Vice President of India

This article first appeared in print under the headline In Our Homes and Hearts

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