As we battle the darkest hour of our times, the virus should be the only priority, not politicisation of the kind at Palghar
They say paranoia is more dangerous than anything else. And the Coronavirus, with uncertainty about its cure and its predatory march on life, has sent us into spasms of madness. As we do not have any explanation or understanding of the virus, as insecurity and helplessness weaken us, we shift our fury to anything that remotely fits into a box called reason. Or the way we would like to define it. What else can explain the mob lynching three men in Maharashtra’s Palghar district, two of them mendicants apparently, thinking they were thieves who were out to steal goods and possibly even kidnap children? The crowd, comprising mostly tribals, had formed community vigilante groups as a self-protective measure in the times of the virus. They mobilised themselves after they received information that organ-harvesting gangs and child lifters were operating in the area. The police, who are stretched to the seams in enforcing the lockdown, were clearly overwhelmed by this human malady of distrust and hatred. And considering that sadhus were involved, soon political parties seized a new talking point, giving it a communal colour. Union Home Minister Amit Shah even called up Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to ensure that the culprits be brought to justice, considering that the incident could have a negative impact on the BJP’s core constituency. The communal card has also been played on social media by extreme Islamophobists after the indiscretions of Tablighi Jamaat — indeed a most irresponsible lot — to amp up demonisation of an otherness they can rationalise vis-à-vis the spread of the virus. We could do without xenophobia of any kind, be it on social media or in reality, during a pandemic that doesn’t spare anybody. There has been a lot of hue and cry over famous personalities being blocked out by Twitter for incendiary remarks from both sides of the divide, leading to the accusation that the social media clampdown was part of a US conspiracy, which didn’t like to see things from an Indian perspective. We certainly cannot allow this kind of extremism of thoughts, political opportunism or a dilution of priorities during the nation’s darkest hour. Or endorse a behavioural code separating COVID-19 patients into wards based on their religion. There is enough stigma going around the virus-affected and even frontline health warriors themselves. Surely we could do without adding more variants to it. India’s civilisational moorings are compassionate and accommodative and are being tested at this moment of crisis. We would be winners if we make it through, losers if we demonise and kill our own.
Of course, at the administrative level, the Palghar incident represents a terrible failure of the law and order machinery. Lockdown or not, the State cannot be allowed to descend into chaos. The job of the police is to prevent such a mess. The State Government must, therefore, take the strictest action against the police, which cannot be seen as caving into the mob instead of reining it in. We must also remember that too many examples and media reports of police negligence and inaction will erode faith in the law and order machinery. And at a time when food riots or migrants’ discontent are pushing the barricades of civic life, a system has to appear robust. Else, even the lockdown would not hold. As fear, panic and anxiety loom large, the forces must be calm, alert and composed and should nip every rumour in the bud. It is not like the police did not sense a gathering of people was up to something or the basis of their fears, real or imagined. It shouldn’t have led the situation to slide to this extent. In fact, the police in all States should maintain a reassuring community outreach to streamline COVID-19 management instead of frittering away resources for trivial issues. Any administrative authority now needs to appear sterner and ensure the enforcement of the rule of law. None of us can afford lynchings and riots at a time of a national health emergency. The nation’s job is to save lives, not watch them waste away silently.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)