Unprecedented — A word used to emphasize or describe something that hasn’t happened earlier, at least in our living memories. How we respond to Covid-19, beyond taming the virus in the short term, only time will tell; but there is no doubt that these are unprecedented times for all of us. Never before has the world found itself in exactly the same situation across continents, time zones, political systems, religious affiliations and economic status. This is not to say that everyone’s affected the same way — while we keep hearing that the novel coronavirus “doesn’t discriminate”, more evidence suggests this ongoing pandemic is exacting a higher toll on marginalized communities, the old, the sick and those with lower incomes.
The way we respond to and manage this crisis is holding up a mirror to our values. Will we take cognizance and work towards that “greater change” which has now become a necessity for our survival? We must and there is no better time than now to drive it. Here is a list to get us started:
- Well-being and dignity, for all
The pandemic has laid bare many weaknesses in our public health systems and provisioning of community well-being, which should be addressed without wasting time. On one hand, we were rushing through life so fast that a sudden halt seems to be creating all kinds of difficulties. Juxtapose to this the insidiousness of inequality is now visible in all its glory. People who usually have little to do with the cause of the problems, end up paying the most in terms of loss of livelihoods or lives. Human dignity and well-being have to be made contagious — if I may use that word — by reworking our political priorities, cultural preferences and socio-economic systems.
- Environmental sustainability is imperative, not a choice anymore
Our ecology and biodiversity is taking a much needed breather. Cities in India and elsewhere have been choking badly for some years and solutions were seemingly elusive. There’s a lesson here for all of us. Why Dhauldhar range shouldn’t be visible from Jalandhar every year? And, why had we given up on that?
- Compassion, both in intervention and policies
The most important change we need reclaiming the space compassion needs to run this world. Both Ranveer Singh and I heard about national lockdown at the same time. Next day, I was on my laptop, working from home while Ranveer Singh started walking. He wasn’t lucky, and succumbed to exhaustion 80 kms from his village. Perhaps, we could imagine the difficulty caused by shock decisions, but just fell short of feeling compassionate enough to do something about it. Inadequate urban planning in overcrowded neighborhoods and a lack of state preparedness that left lakhs of migrant labour stranded in our streets makes the prospect of social isolation a bad joke.
The virus seems to be telling us unambiguously, that we’re responsible for our future and we need to give a serious thought to how we want to shape it. Resorting to business as usual now will prove catastrophic down the line. It also nudges us to look at our dilemma more profoundly — how to keep the wheels of the economy in motion while saving lives, and valuing lives.
For a young country like India, this dilemma can’t be solved unless we rethink the future for young Indians. Going back to where we started: unprecedented responses are the need of the hour, for today and tomorrow. And a lot of it should start from our education and economic systems. Here’s a mix of hope and necessity —
- Synchronize people and the ecology – Governments should place a strategic focus on biodiversity and start talking about sustainability as essential, right from schools and more so in higher educational institutions. Systems need to be redesigned and individuals held accountable for their duties towards co-existence with their environments. An increased focus on the green economy especially in rural areas.
- Make decent living a fundamental right – This ought to be upheld as sacrosanct. Governments and industry have to rethink minimum-wages, labour benefits, housing, medical services and the amount of respect we allow labour — all labour. Maybe that’ll equip us to deal with epidemics of this kind. We are only as strong as our weakest.
- Beef up the healthcare infrastructure and system – Invest significantly in public health. Focus on community level para-health workers along with more nurses, more doctors. Increased emphasis on mental health and better access to counsellors / psychologists for everyone, not just in urban pockets. We should also be better prepared for bedside and geriatric care, because when India starts growing old, it’ll grow old fast.
- Take care of small and medium businesses – Over reliance on large companies and corporations can prove paralyzing when supply chains are disrupted. With ill-planned lockdowns like ours, many small and medium enterprises will go out of business. We need to think how people across a much wider geographical spread (within the country) can be made part of our production systems, while earning a dignified living.
- Break the pyramid; draw a circle – People who lose the most are those on or outside the margins, because they are unable to access basic services in time. Planning wages, mapping identity, provisioning of food, services and information must be done compassionately. Our view of dignified work should be revamped. It shouldn’t be only about a paycheck or the security of a government job. Localised, empowered, respectful, decent ways of living, which appreciates diversity, and local wisdom is only beneficial. Help develop more grassroots social workers, innovators, service providers, basically people who can ensure last mile delivery of information, services, products, relief, while targeting ecological well-being. Inclusiveness and trust will bring about our recovery.
- Call for collaborative leadership across the globe – Over dependence on any one country for critical supplies is catastrophic, as we are learning now. To distribute production equitably across the world, industry and customers would need to adjust to justifiable cost structure and ensure we produce more locally and be better prepared in times of need. All innovation, all technologies, all products and services cannot — however temporarily — be reduced to a profit for the 1%.
Covid-19 might provide a great opportunity to start afresh, one where good governance and the people’s participation in it lead to necessary revivals.
“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”Dave Hollis
With inputs from:
Jayashree Vyasarajan Arasu
Associate Director – Research