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    COVID-19 pandemic: What can we do to help?

    COVID-19 pandemic: What can we do to help?

    COVID-19 pandemic: What can we do to help?
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    By Nandita Sood Perret   IST (Published)


    A Government fails but as a people, we rise.

    I have received dozens of messages of concerned inquiry as to how things are for my family and my country and to reply to those who ask “What can we do to help?” here my take on the COVID-19 situation in India and my answer to their questions.
    What is the situation in India really like? Is it true?
    This afternoon a friend called, dismayed and angry at both the situation itself and the denial of it. Being asked to help and not being able to be of service is a terrible thing.
    People dying in the streets, babies in the neonatal section of a Delhi hospital with less than an hour of oxygen, and the once-free press of democratic India being threatened into silence.
    The following are some of the heartbreaking stories that were shared with me in the past week.
    An old man dies alone in a hospital because borders are closed and his children living in the US are unable to get back home in time. A family friend goes to pick up his personal effects at the hospital where he passed.
    A professional journalist at a loss for words as he watches in disarray the wailing desperation of people in front of a hospital that is turning away the sick because it is already past saturation.
    The “Airpocalypse” in a great nation’s capital is made worse by the hundreds of open-air funeral pyres in the middle of Delhi that burn non-stop. A tragic and lasting image that will be forever etched in the minds of our people and the world.
    How did it come to this?
    The double mutant variant was discovered in October 2020 but nothing was done. Religious festivals and pilgrimages including the Kumbh Mela, a fair that brings together millions of people were allowed to carry on—becoming the epicenter of the second wave.
    In February, there were less than 10,000 declared cases in India and in a country of 1.4 billion that was an exploit that led to the premature declaration of a false victory. A classic case of counting your chickens before they hatch. A victory call that agreed with the government’s narrative and political convenience in terms of their intention to uphold the schedule of the upcoming elections. Elections were maintained and encouraged by the Modi government.
    Elections, where masses of people with no social distancing, and few masks were to be found. Fast forward a couple of months later and there are almost 400000 cases per day with a ratio of 1 in 4 Covid cases worldwide. What could have been the Indian government’s moment to show the world and more importantly its people that it was a mature and capable country has turned into a heartbreaking fiasco.
    Power corrupts they say and the more power you have the more absolute the corruption. Is this what led to the belief that elections and pilgrimages are more important than human lives?
    The government had its chance to use its considerable ability to mobilize and put to good use its logistical prowess to help its own. It was a prime occasion to show a real sense of responsibility to the citizens of India. Despite the many challenges we face because of the sheer numbers of the population of India, the government of India which has been declaring itself a soon-to-be super-power could have also shown the world how ready it was to claim that title.
    A Government fails but as a people, we rise.
    For the sake of clarity—this failure is primarily a governmental one. The people of India are out on the streets doing what they can to help in a terrible situation. Their resilience, humanity, and courage are visible, but the display is not their objective. In the interviews, we hear first-hand accounts from people giving and receiving help not just to and from their immediate family members, but also neighbors and even strangers. I am both touched and humbled by the close-knit community spirit that persists and rises to the occasion in this time of crisis. Here lies the true super-power of India—the resilience of its people.
    Sikh temples where oxygen is being provided for the needy—unbiased by caste or religion. Our leaders could take a page out of the book of these people. Instead for too long now, they have used communal history to revive old pains and cause new suffering. Instead of letting old mistakes die as all that is not useful from the past should, they stir their witch's brew of division and indulge in self-serving rhetoric.
    How did the home of a people that discovered Ayurveda centuries before modern medicine produce such ignorance?
    Since the start of this second wave, the current government’s agenda seems to be focused on controlling the narrative and the international “reputation” of India. Efforts are made to silence or sully the reputations of those journalists who are still trying to do the job by reporting what they see. Shaming tactics in calling them sell-outs to the west, putting them on ice, and shutting them out of discussions, as well as threats, are used to get them to comply.
    If it is a foreign journalist, they will say some variation of “Ah west does and will always criticise us.” If an Indian makes the argument, whenever they live in India or abroad, they are shamed and called an ignorant, occidental lacky.
    What if for a moment we could imagine an Indian government that did not need validation from the West?
    What if in trying to do right by their citizens they had made mistakes by overreaching?
    Would they have been criticised? Probably.
    Would that be worse than the situation we are now facing? Certainly not.
    What if for just a moment we could pause to think about doing “right actions with no thought for the result or the reward?” Is that not what Krishna said to Arjun in the Bhagavat Gita when explaining his call to duty? A lesson that the pro-Hindu Modi government seems to have completely forgotten?
    There will be few governments in the world that will escape unscathed by criticism of their handling of the crisis. We watched in sorrowful frustration as masks in the United States became a divisive political statement.
    In France, the hospitals in the northeastern regions were not ready at the start of the crisis to take on the numbers and doctors had to make tough calls about which patients to treat immediately and which ones to transport despite the risk to them? It goes against the logic of being a doctor to have to choose one patient over another. In this crisis, there will be no winners and losers but we can make sure there are lessons learned.
    I am just an Indian living abroad…what can I do besides worry?
    The now 18 million strong Indian diaspora are often shamed into not saying anything because “We do not understand the Indian reality.” I refuse to be shamed into silence by this all-encompassing negation of my capacity to reflect or by a false sense of patriotism. It is because I love my country and its people that I write this today.
    As a community we are far more powerful than we imagine and what is needed a collective call for non-communal reforms for the poor without identifying them by caste or creed. Reforms in the political system, the healthcare system, the equivocal separation of judiciary and religion, a renewed protection of the free press, and the modernisation of the education system are all desperately needed if we are to become the super-power instead of waiting and hoping to become one.
    If this tragedy serves as a midwife to these reforms, then we might be able to say that thousands did not die in vain. There is a saying in India “Jaan hai to jahaan hai.” Roughly translated it means "If there is life, we can have the world." Life is precious. Together by spreading the word and supporting change, we can try to make sure that this remains true.
    —Nandita Sood Perret is a communications consultant and leadership coach at CTD Cultural Insights, where she helps people and companies break through old patterns, to develop new perspectives and innovative solutions for collaboration and growth. 
    Read Nandita Sood Perret's columns here. 
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