What we get to see on televisions today is the heedlessly caring Amitabh Bachan and Kamal Hassan, along with a bunch of ignorant sadist clowns. The two most prominent icons among the iconoclastic cadre present in the country today. These men are great actors and assumedly the 'pride' of the nation as of now. Amitabh and Kamal have been engaged in cautioning the general public on personal hygiene. There has been no day since the unplanned lockdown where the TV screens have not witnessed the most pretentious looks of these "great" men. These prominent public figures are asking us to use tissue papers while coughing or sneezing. They also inform us how to discard it and where to discard it. I am sure these self drunk men are aware of people coming to their doorsteps to collect their pile of used tissue papers and also the other accumulated garbage in the course of their "personal hygiene" and family lavishness.
There are other efforts by many other celebrities. Saif Ali Khan is promoting the idea of sanitising every object that we come in contact with. For Saif, it could be protecting his baby and his family from the possible COVID-19 and other harmful germs. It could also mean MONEY at this point of lockdown promoting LYZOL. Unlike the struggles of the migrant labourers, farmers, daily waged skilled and unskilled labourers, sports stars like Sachin, Bhutia, Sania, and many more, are trying to inspire people to practice handwashing. Their clamouring insensitive smiles indicate the ruthless, rampant, capitalist schemes with no sense of economic and ecological accountability and caste minded influenza at these unprecedented times. After all, they are icons who have tripped on common people's adoration for their commitment to commercial nationalism through sports and entertainment.
For the poor and the middle-class COVID-19 has shaken almost every sphere of their basic life.
Their momentum to life is controlled, unthinkably, by the Elite-Caste GOVERNMENT which caters to the monstrous appetite of the MNCs and other caste minded business tycoons of the time. The governance and all those in support of the political elite have become mere puppets in the hands of the authoritarian state. Their souls have been stolen by the ruthless capitalistic corporate demons, with no sense of humane actualities and critical thinking in terms with the lives of the weak and vulnerable of the society. It looks like the entire political elite of the world were waiting to grab the moment to unleash their Authoritarian selves. The state has lost the liberty to think critically, creatively and humanly in the context of this brutal pandemic. Some critiques claim it a 'plandemic'.
Amitabh and Kamal kind of rhetoric, have no sense of life concerning those communities who are exposed to unimaginable dangers trying to clear the accumulated garbage. Garbage collectors and the possible risks involved in their labour are never in the schemes of things while planning the safety measures for the citizens in the country. Labour attached to waste in this country is founded on caste mechanisms. Caste mechanisms are forced upon Dalits. I'm a Dalit, let me speak my heart now, in this regard. My early life in Bangalore is tainted with hard memories.
Sewage residues and garbage were lavishly poured in front of our doorsteps. Horrendous memories haunt me till day. However, the garbage collectors, sewage cleaners and sweepers have challenged my Dalit Christian spirituality from a very young age. I had no chance to express those feelings until I completed my bachelor's degree.
I have seen the garbage collectors and sewage workers walking the aisle of our colonies, hoping for a better day. Their days were/are filled with night soils and their nights with rage and violence. Their violence is not like the violence committed by the GOVERNMENT authorities and caste propagating unaccountable capitalist economies. Their struggle with violence is about food, water, shelter, health and future. They were the ones who welcomed the sunbeam every morning at the colony. They wore their khakis, spoke Telugu, Tamil and Kannada, both men and women, young and old. They walked in some sort of confidence that I couldn't comprehend. They walked like nothing ever happened to them in this world.
Their mornings aren't like Amitabh, Kamal and the other bunch of clowns who practice yoga and other self-indulging activities. Their mornings are filled with the stale smell, rotten waste, unpleasant faces of those bringing their garbage. Stink, dirt, noise, dust and unimaginable things killed their inner self every morning. Disgusting memories dominated their minds and souls.
Shaving blades cut their fingers. They get pierced with needles, glasses and other sharply broken objects. Their exposed hands are smeared with variety of sticky and gummy substances, baby and human shit, blood and also a huge pile of used TISSUE papers( *use them and put them in a closed bin). Most of them consume alcohol or some sort of intoxicating substances before they eat, to let go of the stench stuck to their eating hands. I don't know if the handwashing practice might help them in their stinky experiences.
Recently, I was speaking to a young and handsome guy, who stood in a certain style leaning of his vehicle, blowing the whistle and calling out people to come out with their garbage. He had a smile of a lover boy. I asked him if he isn't worried about COVID-19, he said, 'be it corona, malaria, dengue, or any such infectious diseases, it doesn't stop us. We have to risk ourselves to take care of our families. We haven't studied nor had any interests, so let us see what this life unfolds for us'. He also said that this world doesn't care. These defying statements haunt our social and political spaces. They also ridicule our religious claims to love and respect.
COVID-19's precautionary measures have not regarded these experiences as vital Human Right necessities. This purposefully willed negligence has become an integral part of politics in this country. Though there are several efforts to provide them safety kits and outfits by several emphatic members from the society, social activists, and other groups, the garbage collectors themselves have shown less interest in embracing such initiatives. Their pain drenched lives have become immune to taking risks and even to death itself, who cares anyway? And how does it even matter to puppets like Kamal and Amitabh?
There has/is never been anything official about their employment, safety and future. The caste mechanism has nullified all the constitutional provisions. Caste mechanism weighs the justice scale in this country. Exclusion on the bases of caste is the unwritten constitution of this land.
People like Saif, Sachin, Sania and the other-self drunk national "prides" have proved their inability to be emphatic about such visible crimes in the country. They have only thought of themselves and their business endeavours. These grave realities question the very ethics of safety measures and public health in the context of COVID-19.
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Rev. Immanuel Nehemiah is a pastor from Bangalore.