People were gradually coming to terms with new normal of locked down cities and towns. Meanwhile, impetuous anchors were waiting for a story to get back onto their routine. In this milieu, the state of Telangana reports 5 cases of COVID-19 and all of them had returned from “Markaz”. A spectacle of sorts unfolds in Nizammuddin locality of Delhi. Hundreds were evacuated in dozens of buses, tested and quarantined (as precaution). Screaming and brash lords in TV studios had their moment, they pounced on the report and everyone of us was ambushed with all possible theories and annotations, a section of citizens stood stigmatized. Reactions from Muslim leadership and community poured out. Those were the voices of solidarity and of disconcert.
Our comeback needs complete overhaul, not just in this case but on almost all concerns. Crises like these do call for solidarity but also beget deeper conflicts. They are more often than not understood in relation to web of beliefs that one possesses. For some, these are the times for radical change and for some it’s time for familiar comforts – hang their favorite stories to the crisis. Considering the undeniably existing will of Islam towards improvement of the world, it would be churlish to not acknowledge that our initial perception and understanding of the gravity of emerging human health challenge was naïve and unempirical to begin with. Sentimental charade is just not the way. It is fallacy to attribute fatalism to Islam. This attribution leads to gross reductionism of all dimensions of Islam and tells man that he is the victim of circumstances. From the moment of cognition, Islam equips a Muslim with the strength of soul to face the times and readiness to endure everything that existence can offer. Submission to Allah is the crux of Islam and perhaps this submission also mandates the acknowledgement of natural ecosystem. Our reaction has in every sense betrayed all this.
The way forward, Quran says “… change what is in themselves [ourselves]”. There are emerging faultlines showing how some of the existing challenges may get further complicated post COVID-19. Sticking only to some apparently favorable voices will do us no good for they may own the discourse but definitely disown popular voice. It is time to jettison the accumulated historical ballast of centuries that hinders our progress. The early we take cognizance of these faultlines the better.
Capitalism, has failed human race. It has left mankind wretched. We get increasingly bombarded with news of difficulty that migrant labors and daily wage workers are going through and declining state revenues. The language of compassion that focuses solely on livelihood sans life, may well be a capitalist bellow. We need to be cautious, this short term compassion towards destitute should not become structural injustice in long run. Beyond these gestures of kindness we need to realize that poor are demanding their rights. On the other hand, mighty and rich continue in their conceited pursuits. Given the way, America blocked supply of ventilators to Cuba, refused easing of sanctions on Iran, calls for abandoning the export of Hydroxychloroquine in our country, efforts to monopolize procurement of vaccines for COVID-19 by luring firms and many such issues point towards an eminently selfish order – every man for himself and every firm for itself. Disequilibrium may well become new equilibrium. Economic order that focuses on wealth distribution, prevention of exploitation, judicial utilization of resources and solicitously set priorities could well be a game changer. Earnest pursuit in these regard will be prudent.
Increased surveillance could well become usual phenomenon and frail public concern. As Pratap Banu Mehta puts it, The need to monitor risks in the interdependent world, where even small outbreaks, if not caught in time , can cause disproportionate havoc, will be the basis for rendering actions, movements, histories, economic activities of citizens legible to the State. In such a scenario, apprehensions of individual profiling may not take much time in becoming reality. There needs to be expiry date for information collected and information collecting systems. Robust and comprehensive mechanisms for data privacy and security along with strong regulations to ensure security of information are an urgent need. An empowered and aware citizenry is must for an healthy State. Mass awareness and building of consensus around the devaluing effect that surveillance will have on civil rights especially in democratic societies with religious and linguistic diversity is imperative.
Efforts of containment if caught in geo-political narratives may result in new tensions. For example, as Trump put it, this will be a “China Virus” for the US. A deeper regulatory and cultural cooperation would help reduce future risks. Possible safety issues in research, safety in animal markets, potential lifestyle regulations, may pave way for politics of cultural representation, ensuing calls for regulations may unleash new tensions. There will be more conflicts surrounding trading systems. With right wing populist politics on the rise – a kryptonite for reason and sanity, these conflicts may lead to deglobalisation and augmentation of nationalism, xenophobia. Different political parties could use this crisis to further their agendas, provide cover to many dodgy decisions.
In India, arguments against reservation are gradually building up and being mainstreamed. The economic fallout of the pandemic will be huge, resulting in job losses. This increase in pool of people with no jobs and an atmosphere charged up with communal vitriol will emerge as a challenge. The political establishment may be forced to take some more populist but unreasonable decisions to engage this section of people and contain their frustration levels. In this milieu, the issues ranging from increasing social security cover to distribution of resources amongst diverse sections of citizens will well become the basis for increase in fake news and maniac discourse.
Islam means continuing obligation to order our life in any given situation in accordance with needs of the time and in total submission to Allah. Islam offers us ways to cope with life under these circumstances with positive attitude towards scientific research and knowledge, rejection of the idea of excommunication, long standing readiness for dialogue, alternative systems of finance, social formulations, governance etc. Only time will tell us whether we come out of crisis as clueless victims and limit ourselves to complaining or will we understand the faultlines, prepare ourselves and build a tomorrow of our dreams.