One virus to unite us all

Published: Mar 28, 2020, 04:15 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

Once we are out of this crisis, we should ensure that our money is spent on offering better healthcare and making the country cleaner

Mist spray sanitises the area around the civic headquarters in Fort. Pic/ Ashish Raje
Mist spray sanitises the area around the civic headquarters in Fort. Pic/ Ashish Raje

A number of people online have been very pleased about how the Indian greeting of Namaste is now a safe way of avoiding contact in these times of the COVID-19 virus. These are the same people who believe that we live in times of 'Achhe Din', of course, so sensible Indians have done the right thing and dismissed their latest display of stupidity. What has been more amusing, however, is how millions of us have changed our lives in subtle ways to try and escape a pandemic that has long been publicised as inevitable.

Birthday parties have been cancelled, visits to the mall curtailed, travel plans abandoned, and even a few of our Godmen have decided to avoid lectures in public because they don't want to risk catching something. That millions of our fellow Indians continue to fund these Godmen is another issue, but it's a sign of how seriously we take this risk that even businessmen masquerading as spiritual leaders have decided to stop raking in the money for a while.

No one knows what the outcome of this will be, because there have been warnings about a situation like this for decades now. We have all been sitting on a tinderbox, waiting for an explosion, but none of us have noticed because we have been too busy attacking each other on the basis of our religious beliefs. The governments we elect to serve and protect us have been busy serving and protecting themselves, which is also why we find ourselves in this state of vulnerability.

It doesn't take much intelligence to figure out that India is a filthy country that will pay the price for this lack of sanitation at some point. If this particular virus doesn't get us, another will in the not too distant future. The numbers have always been alarming, because we have always ignored issues such as hunger, poverty, livelihood and childcare, while discussing the state of healthcare. We spend more on defence than health, which is why we continue to hear appalling stories of children dying of malnutrition mere kilometres from our richest cities.

We continue to turn a blind eye to the practice of cleaning septic tanks and sewers by hand. We talk about millions of toilets being built across the country but fail to locate a single decent one along any of Bombay's highways. The toilets that are being built to meet quotas and generate PR-campaigns are often built without sewage systems, and foreign journalists talk about these things because so many journalists in India have been silenced. Manual scavenging continues to be practised because we have failed to address the issue of caste. And yet, these things continue to be swept under the rug while we hope that washing our hands will save us.

It's astonishing how the notion of cleanliness being next to godliness has been forced down our throats for as long as we can remember, with absolutely no effect on how we continue to live. Our streets often resemble large garbage dumps. Our dustbins themselves overflow without shame, and we go about our business by turning a blind eye to the ever-present stains of saliva that dot every possible surface.

It boggles the mind that so much of what we are taught in school, and what we try to teach our children, flies out the window when we step outside. We allow our government to get away with poor standards constantly. If the garbage outside buildings isn't collected for days, we don't mind because we assume it's someone else's problem. If there are few public hospitals, we don't mind because we can afford private ones. We don't have a problem with the fact that portions of our salary are taken every month for services that are never given. We allow politicians to get away with wasteful and pointless expenditure on things that matter to no one, because we don't care about the big picture.

The world will find a way of dealing with this latest crisis, because it always has. What we should try and take from it is a lesson though, that our money should be spent on making our country cleaner, and on offering us better healthcare because what we have been given so far is nowhere near acceptable. Without that, we don't really stand a chance. For now, a quarter of rural Indians are yet to have access to toilets, and we are hoping to fight off a virus by wearing face masks.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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