It was always clear India would have a second wave. Our lockdown came too late and too suddenly, causing more chaos and more exposure as people elbowed each other and fought their way to essential and non-essential goods in eleventh-hour panic.
It took months for the quarantine to have effect, but the numbers did eventually whittle down, allowing the government to boast that the situation had been brought under control and in record time; also allowing the people who have aptly if not creatively been christened “covidiots” to walk about unmasked, claim the entire coronavirus pandemic was a conspiracy theory, dip themselves in holy waters, congregate in mosques and churches and gurdwaras and synagogues and temples, have grand weddings, and bring back mutant strains of the virus from Instagram-worthy vacations.
Yes, all this should not have happened. Other things should have happened.
All the states that were going to the polls this year should have postponed elections until the entire public was vaccinated. But, of course, the opposition would have used the opportunity to claim that the ruling party was afraid of anti-incumbency, and the ruling party would have risen to the bait in what can only be compared to a puerile boys’ locker room trick.
If the elections could not be postponed, voting from home could have been enabled—and can still be enabled. When everything else has been e-powered, why not voting, complete with Aadhaar and PAN and mobile numbers? In the states that are yet to go to poll, the governments at the state and centre should consider this option, and also consider a ban on live campaigning; there are enough avenues for e-campaigning. Rallies serve no purpose but to reassure a politician that he has a following. Televised or mobile- or social media-transmitted addresses would be far more effective. And, as Mahua Moitra has often demonstrated, when one says something sensible it usually goes viral.
And yes, vaccination should have been opened up for everyone while prioritising particular age groups, rather than allowing precious vials to go to waste by excluding those who were eligible and willing. But that did not happen, and there is not much we can do to combat the vaccine shortfall or the oxygen shortage—except stay home.
And that is the last thing we are doing.
Reporters are on ground every day, although all that needs to be said about the abysmal situation has already been said.
Opposition politicians do their best to hit the government when it is down and ensure good PR and media coverage for the donations they themselves make—again, exposing everyone involved in the exercise to infection.
We are working ourselves into a fury when what we need most is to think clearly and act sensibly.
Social media can be useful, to pass on leads about hospital facilities and plasma donation and oxygen cylinders; it can also be used to rave and rant and stir ill feeling. The one thing that can persuade a PR-conscious government to act is poor publicity at the international level, and unless we are channelling our rage into those platforms, it might be best to conserve our energy and work on our own immunity.
We need to work on representing real needs and suggestions to the authorities, rather than play the blame game, which only leads to tiresome exchanges that leave everyone fuming. Among the real needs of the day is the future of students and their education. We live in a world where most competitive examinations are taken online. We have also been following a stagnant system where students are assessed on their memories rather than application of what they have learnt.
This would be a good time to work on different evaluation patterns, that will allow students’ skills to be tested without their having to be physically present. Assignments make a lot more sense than exams, particularly at a time when plagiarism can be detected through software. Admission to higher educational institutes could take place through online interviews and assessment of the students’ overall achievements through the years. This is how things work in the “real world”, the world of employment and commerce.
Another real need is for more Covid war rooms to be set up, and for as many processes to be automatised as possible. Since data such as bed tracking is only accessible to those within civic bodies, we need to organise volunteers to man these rooms, and have them vaccinated on priority.
Through all this, let us not forget mental health and grief counselling. The visceral nature of grief is such that it prevents people from thinking about anything else until they have let it all out—the guilt, the rage, the loss. And with the Covid deaths piling up, with immediate family not even being able to say goodbye, with dreams for a future that will never be realised, there is grief on a scale never seen before.
Doctors, many of them just out of medical college, have arguably seen more death in fourteen months than their predecessors did in their lifetimes. Platitudes don’t help anyone deal with a situation that hits so hard at emotion. Therapy with mental health professionals must be arranged.
We need to start seeing each other—even our politicians, hard as it may be—as humans rather than as symbols of a system, so that we can reach out and ensure that we all get the help we need.
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com