Sunday, November 29, 2020
Column

Coronavirus Cogitations–Will Coronavirus spell Change?

Monalisa Changkija 

It was bad at Dimapur today (Monday, March 30, 2020). You may have seen videos, doing the rounds in Whatsapp and other social media, and heard of people recklessly shopping, as if there is no tomorrow. You may have been one of these reckless shoppers yourself. If so, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Dimapur has been put to shame. Dimpaur today stands disgraced in the State of Nagaland.

Now, why has today happened at Dimapur despite the Central and State Governments’ advice, instructions and directives related to precautionary and preventive measures to fight the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic across the globe? It appears that our people have not fully understood and appreciated the threat of this pandemic and the dangers it wrecks on individuals, communities and countries. Isn’t what is happening in over hundred countries enough to bring us to our senses?

We have to change our ways if we hope to survive this pandemic. We, especially Nagas, have to stop thinking and believing that we are immune to this disease, this pandemic, just because there has been no positive case in Nagaland so far. Because only over 3000 people have been tested so far in Nagaland and there are lakhs of us yet to be tested, nobody can guarantee that there are no positive cases in our state or that they wouldn’t happen. This further reiterates the urgency to follow all Central and State Government advice, instructions and directives related to precautionary and preventive measures to fight the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic ~ especially social distancing.

We have to change our undisciplined ways. How long do we think we can carry on with our undisciplined, stubborn and disobedient ways ~ not only in the matter of this pandemic but also in all spheres of our individual and collective lives? If this disease should afflict even one of us, we are doomed because of our undisciplined, stubborn and disobedient ways and because our health and medical infrastructure and facilities simply do not exist to contain this pandemic. And then, don’t forget there is no cure for it as yet.

We have to change and adapt to changing circumstances and realize that we cannot live, eat and move around as we are used to. If you have the basic rice, dal, aloo, piyaz, cooking oil, dryfish, bas-tenga and axone, learn to survive on them for a few weeks. It won’t be the end of the world. Learn to grow a kitchen garden, learn newer and create ways of cooking with what you have. I know our people are habituated to shopping early in the morning very day. Learn to buy non-perishable food to last you for a few days, or better still a week, so that we don’t have to go out every day. I also know that for us shopping is a social event but also learn to stay home and use technology to socialize. You could always pick up that book you have been planning to read, catch up on old movies, do up your house, repair your garage/chicken coop/dog kennel, restart embroidery and cross stitch, sew face masks, stitch missing buttons and darn your socks and shirt/dress, and do all the things that used to be done a couple of generation ago. Because, the novel coronavirus is changing the world very rapidly and it is likely that we will have to go back to old way before new ways emerge.

We have to change and realize the individual and collective lives, as we know them, will no longer remain the same. This also means that systems of governance, economic, political and social and religious power systems and structures, etc., will also become unrecognizable and hopefully inclusive, tolerant and more democratic. In the midst of the fresh emergence of racism against the background of the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19, and against the backdrop of racism against our people in India cities, which we have all vehemently condemned, and the very same racism we have perpetrated against non-Nagas in Dimapur, it is possible that (hopefully) very soon we will open our eyes to human beings and shut our eyes to colour, creed, race, religion, culture, food habits, attires, etc., because Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate anyone on these basis.

 We have to change and take up responsibility for all peoples and communities, who have made our land, Nagaland, their homes, and shelter and feed them the way we shelter our own people. Exactly like the Sikh, Jain, Muslim, Bengali and other non-Naga communities are providing food and shelter to everyone in need here ~ irrespective of race, religion, colour, whatever. We have to stop appropriating power just because we are the land-owners. We have to start shouldering our responsibilities as land-owners. If we can’t do that, we must shut-up and not demand this or that from the Government or anyone. Inversely, this also means that our state Government must realize exactly how responsive and responsible our tribal powers-that-be are or have been at times of crisis and stop giving them too much importance ~ especially in matters of public interest and welfare such as the pandemic now. Clearly, our Government ought to stop out-sourcing governance and administration to tribal organizations and strengthen Government agencies, including local self-government bodies.  In the same token, Government must clearly send the message to Village Councils that they must not outsource their responsibilities to youths ~ some of who, we have seen, have abused their responsibilities mistaking them to be powers conferred on them.

We have to change and stop believing in what “manu khan koi ase”, especially in social media. Use your God-given reasoning powers to question whatever you hear or are told. And stop gossiping and rumour and panic mongering. Henceforth, let us resolve to question, reason and demand evidence from everyone, including the Government and your Pastor/Priest/Pujari/Gaonburra/Dobashi, whoever. Also, please stop forwarding inane forwards in Whatsapp and Messenger and other social media. Please use communication technology responsibly.

The list of the changes we must make is not exhausted but let’s now come to the role of the Government ~ especially vis-à-vis what happened at Dimapur today. I have talked with the Dimapur DC and Commissioner of Police today and somehow I got the sense that there is a lack of communication and coordination between the two offices. And then, there is the Dimapur Municipal Council (DMC). A few days ago, DC, Dimapur, notified that the New Market would be closed and that vegetable, fruits and other essential commodity vendors should set up shop at designated spots. However, reportedly New Market is open and it is business as usual. How? Why? If New Market is under the jurisdiction of the DMC, surely it must explain? Surely, the state Government should investigate and ask for explanations ~ even pull it up and fix responsibility, if the explanations are unsatisfactory? If the Dimapur civil and police administration had a “war room” and both worked in tandem, what happened at Dimapur wouldn’t have happened.

What happened at Dimapur is also a failure of the civil and police administration to draw up a cohesive plan of action to fight off the disease and pandemic as per the Central and State Governments’ advice, instructions and directives related to precautionary and preventive measures to fight the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic. While we appreciate all efforts of the Dimapur district civil and police administration in these very trying times and do extend all support and cooperation, clearly more needs to be done. These are unprecedented times and nobody is prepared and geared to meet such times. This is where Governments and district administrations need to draw from and build up the dynamism of governance and administration so crucial for developing societies, which see maximum changing circumstances and equations. This is where Governments and administrations need to resort to creative governance, creative administration and creative policing.

Yes, our Government and district administrations are doing their utmost but they also need to change their thinking and practices of the ways of dealing with new and indubitably unforeseen situations. This is not to suggest circumventing the Constitution and the law but to apply them in a more creative manner in which the human being and the community are prioritized. I received reports that some Dimapur Police reportedly used their dandas on the public and destroyed vegetables today ~ a totally erroneous policy to tackle the present situation. For one, Sections 144 and 188, including Sections 269 & 270 IPC, do not entail the use of the police danda. Secondly, these are difficult days and to reportedly destroy vegetables or any food item is the height of insensitivity and criminal. We know that some police across India are doing great work but we also know that some police are doing terrible things during this lockdown. We don’t want the Nagaland Police to do terrible things and script a negative record. The state Police will have to set up a “war room” and address and redress current issues and set the precedent for, and practice, sensitive and humane policing.

 Unconfirmed talks state that the state Government is planning a total shutdown in Dimapur district. This would be a very wrong move. For one, the people of this district should not be punished for the lapses of the Government and the district civil and police administration. Secondly, the people of this district should also not be punished when for decades, the state Government has looked the other way ~ and perhaps even been complicit ~ at the circumvention, violation and brazen breach of laws and the rule of law. If the Government cleans it own backyard first, the people would have no option but to follow suit. It is ironic but it is also likely that the dreaded novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 may very well spell CHANGE ~ hopefully for the better.

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