The recent horrific video of a rickshaw puller being pinned to the ground and thrashed by two policemen in Indore for not wearing a mask has sparked outrage for obvious reasons. What is shocking is the savagery of these policemen who can be seen ruthlessly beating up the hapless rickshaw puller even as his ten-year-old son keeps beseeching them to let his father go. At the most, the policemen could have let him off with a warning to wear a mask.
Every day, we see people casually violating COVID-19 protocols by moving around without wearing a mask. While the common man is penalised for the same, politicians are let off the hook as they go about lecturing us from their ivory towers. Whenever a reporter asks a politician why he/she was not wearing a mask while campaigning, they either dodge the question or give vague explanations. This attitude is as annoying as it is unfortunate.
These days, a majority of politicians in poll-bound states can be seen campaigning without wearing a mask and addressing rallies where there is no scope for physical distancing. So, it is not surprising that coronavirus cases have surged in these states in the last one month. Despite the prime minister’s repeated appeals to follow COVID-19 protocols as the second wave rages in the country, no one seems to be taking the situation seriously. Couldn’t we just defer these assembly elections by a few months or so after scaling up the vaccination process in these states?
Recently, 60-year-old Norway Prime Minister Erna Solberg received a hefty fine for breaking the country’s virus curbs. On February 25, 13 members of Solberg’s family had dined at a restaurant in the town of Geilo on her birthday, although as per rules, the number of participants in a private event in a public space was limited to 10.
Can we even imagine such similar strictness being shown to a politician in our country for violating COVID-19 protocols?
Moreover, politicians aren’t the only suspects when it comes to thumbing their nose at COVID-19-appropriate behaviour. Many other public figures, including film actors, are also equally to blame. No wonder, in the last few weeks, many from Bollywood have tested positive, leading to the cancellation of film shootings. But despite it all, many of them can still be seen moving around without wearing masks. Should we call it arrogance or sheer ignorance? Perhaps both. But, have we seen them being penalised? Never.
We had all started living almost like hedgehogs during the initial phase of the lockdown last year, trying to maintain a distance with those around us. We duly avoided handshakes, covered our faces with masks while stepping out, even sanitised our currency notes, doors and windows.
But things have changed.
Many of us have lowered our guard this year, presuming the virus has lost its virulence, and hence is no longer capable of upending our lives as it did about a year ago. People are attending marriage functions and birthday parties without caring much about physical distancing norms.
On April 13, more than 100 devotees tested positive after attending the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. According to reports, lakhs of devotees bathed in the river Ganga, throwing all physical distancing rules to the winds. The government should have banned this religious congregation keeping in mind the fact that the second strain is turning out to be extremely dangerous and is spreading like wildfire.
Strangely enough, according to a recent Delhi high court order, wearing a mask is mandatory even if a person is driving alone. As soon as the order came, a lot of citizens took to Twitter to taking funny potshots at the directive.
In reaction to the order, one Twitter user said:
“Wearing mask is compulsory while you are alone in your car: Delhi HC,
‘Your car is a public place’
Next: Wearing mask will be compulsory while at home, your home is also going to be declared as a ‘Public Place’”.
While barbs and jibes fly thick and fast, let’s, for a while, salute the mental resilience of those people who have been and are still religiously observing all the safety protocols without listening to those who were busy downplaying and denying the existence of the virus.
It now appears that the COVID-19 fatigue has set in. The second wave is being referred to as more deadly than the first one, which is wreaking havoc in major cities with fatality rates going up exponentially. The public health care is overwhelmed and stretched. Repeated appeals from doctors and scientist to wear a mask and avoid crowded places are turning out to be water off a duck’s back.
We have seen how in the US and Brazil, and in other European countries like the UK, France and Germany, coronavirus cases shot up exponentially after people became complacent. Lest we forget, last year, leaders like former US president Donald Trump, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro initially didn’t take the virus seriously only to fall ill themselves. It is because of our sheer callousness that we continue to let this unwanted guest, the coronavirus, play the party pooper in our lives.
There is also a misconception among people that once they get vaccinated, wearing of the mask is not going to be compulsory any more. We should avoid paying heed to fake and misleading WhatsApp messages. Let’s not forget that mask is now the new normal in our lives and we should not even think of abandoning it until the pandemic is done and dusted.
Let us also spare a thought for those lakhs of doctors and health workers who have been tirelessly working in hospitals since last year, while putting their lives on the line and sacrificing the happiness of their families. It is for their sake that we must follow all the rules and make a collective effort in rooting out this scourge once for all. D.H. Lawrence wrote in one of his novels:
“There is now no smooth road into the future. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”
How appropriate in today’s context!
Aditya Mukherjee is a senior journalist based in Delhi