Updated: April 3, 2021 8:09:48 am
Over the last year, exponential graphs and dashboards have been deployed to make sense of the novel coronavirus’s furious journey through the planet and the toll it has taken on health, economy and equality. But what has not been reckoned with enough is the damage done to humanity. In April last year, for example, the first doctor to die of COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu could not be buried as paranoid groups of local residents stopped his last rites at several places. He was not alone. Similar hostility and fear were on display at several COVID funerals, as many people responded to the fear of an unknown, rampaging virus — with more fear. The police had to step in to ensure Dr Simon Hercules was buried in a cemetery of a different faith. The Madras High Court, however, has now ordered that his body be exhumed so that he gets the burial he deserved.
It isn’t only that people turned against doctors and health workers fighting to contain the disease. The virus also activated the pathogen of communal hate. The Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi, accused of being a superspreader, provided the “enemy”. A year later, with the evidence of pandemic-weary permissiveness all around, in streets, temples and beaches, the minority-baiting campaign has been exposed for what it is. Unlike the reburial for the doctor, entire neighbourhoods that had been profiled and stigmatised as deviants, resulting in job losses and hunger, have found no recompense.
True, the world had few weapons at the start of the pandemic. But the knowledge of a shared mortality, of empathy and kindness has always defined humans. As new waves of pandemic break upon the world, it is important to measure by how much people fell short of basic humanity — and resist walking down that road again.
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