“We Are Like That Only”: How the Coronavirus Exposes India’s Self-Discipline Problem

Coronavirus

“We Are Like That Only”: How the Coronavirus Exposes India’s Self-Discipline Problem

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

As the 21-day pan-India coronavirus lockdown grinds on, Indians face their biggest test yet: self discipline. One look at the traffic situation in our country and it won’t be difficult to conclude that we are not a very law-abiding nation. We undermine laws, circumvent them, or plainly and simply ignore them because, “Tu jaanta nahi mera baap kaun hai!”

On a serious note though, I don’t know which of the possible two causes is to be blamed more – that we are stupid enough to live in a bubble where others do not exist, or that there is some sense of achievement in fully knowing the law of land, and hoodwinking it! Odes can be written about how our creative juices flow when it comes to tricking our way out of system and procedures! Rules and Indians don’t exactly go hand in hand, so it will be interesting to see how a nation of over a billion lock themselves in.

Now before you jump the gun and tell me that there are genuine cases that cannot function in a lockdown, I want to clarify upfront that the people I am talking about here are those that have all the privilege of class, caste, health, and education at their disposal and still choose to flout rules. Consider the example of the ladies who did the garba once the “Taali/thaali bajao” exercise was over on March 22, or a mini-parade of one portly uncle and about six or seven kids who went around my colony shouting, “Bharat Mata ki Jai!” while clanging the plates in their hands.

Will we be able to rise to the occasion? Only time will tell.

But what can one hope from regular folks, when lawmakers themselves don’t follow the rules? Not even 12 hours after PM Modi had announced a complete lockdown of the country citing the COVID-19 outbreak, Uttar Pradesh’s CM Adityanath went ahead with a ritual of shifting the idol of Lord Ram in Ayodhya from a tin shed to a temporary structure. This, when the guidelines issued by the Home Ministry had specifically stated, “All places of worship shall be closed for public. No religious congregations will be permitted, without any exception.” Make no mistake, this was a religious ceremony, and as many as 20 people attended it when doctors and scientists across the world have cried themselves hoarse telling people to practice social distancing.

Is it any wonder then that the government in Telangana has threatened to issue a rather extreme “shoot at sight” order if the curfew in the state is violated? “Shoot-at-sight orders to kill people — to prevent people from dying from a virus?” read a tweet yesterday, and of course, it is ethically and morally wrong, but what can law enforcers do when one does not care for one’s own safety! That we have to resort to such drastic measures says a lot about Indians and our lack of self-discipline.

Rules and Indians don’t exactly go hand in hand, so it will be interesting to see how a nation of over a billion lock themselves in.

In contrast, there are several lessons to be learnt from Singapore or Hong Kong’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, an article in Time Magazine outlines what it means to live with restrictions for almost two months now, but as Amy Ho says in the piece, “It’s annoying, sure. But our health is the most important thing.”

A friend of mine who stays in Hong Kong has been working from home since mid-January. She is bored out of her wits but says it is imperative that we follow the orders, and also adds that the country seems to have learnt its lesson well after the 2003 SARS epidemic that scarred the region forever. If you combine effective government policies with the collective will of a populace, we have a much higher chance of containing the spread of the virus. India, currently, seems to be going the Italy way, with delayed response to the pandemic and people still not taking the lockdown seriously. I won’t be surprised if there is an Indian version of the viral video in which Italy’s lawmakers are literally losing their marbles trying to tell people to stay at home.

Indians undermine laws, circumvent them, or plainly and simply ignore them.

Everyone keeps saying that we are in this together, but we are also in this as single, solitary individuals who need to channel all our will power and practice self-discipline like never before. I know it’s boring, I know you can’t stand your family in close proximity for 21 consecutive days, I know introspection is scary and solitude overrated, but we need to overcome all our fears, insecurities, exasperation, and annoyance if we want to survive these very strange and unprecedented times. Will we be able to rise to the occasion? Only time will tell.

And while we hope to regulate ourselves for the next 21 days (or perhaps longer) let us not take matters into our own hands and start to forcefully regulate others! All we can do is change our behaviour, adapt to the new normal and appeal to the better sense of others to practice self-discipline, too.

We are simply too many of us for the law to keep an eye on each one of us. And that is where we come in, for once we need to be accountable for our own actions that not only directly affect our chance of survival, but also of others around us! Because we now know, “Aapka, aur hum sab ka baap kaun hai? Ek 0.14 micron ke size wala virus.”

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