Covid-19 pandemic has brought in many ‘mantras’ such as clean your hands, wear mask, follow social distancing, stay alone, stay at home and lakshman rekha etc. Among these mantras the most popular seems to be ‘hand wash’. There are two meanings for hand wash – one: cleanliness; two: disowning the responsibility. An example from the Bible – “When Pilate saw that it was no use to go on, but that a riot might break out, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “I am not responsible for the death of this man! This is your doing!” (Mat.27:24).
I invite the readers to reflect on the second meaning. I enlist below various types of hand wash – i.e. disowning responsibility.
Type-1: When Covid-19 started spreading in China in December 2019, the Indian government did not take this matter seriously. The government did nothing and washed its hands.
Type-2: When the opposition parties raised the issue of the spread of Covid-19 in the parliament in early February 2020, the ruling party mocked at those who raised this issue and washed its hands.
Type-3: When WHO cautioned all the countries in early March 2020, the health minister said that Covid-19 was not a health emergency and washed his hands.
Type-4: When the PM announced the ‘unplanned national lockdown’, millions of migrant labourers, middle and lower middle class, medium and small scale business people were terribly affected. Both the PM and the Home Minister disowned the negative consequences of the sudden lockdown and they washed their hands. Does it not prove that he has washed his hands fully by disowning all the negative consequences of the national lockdown?
Type-5: The PM’s third national address on 14 April contained a 7-point Appeal. Everything sounded quite ridiculous. All that the PM announced could have been done by a simple panchayat-level officer. The nation does not require a PM for this task. Daily-wage labourers and the poor people have been starving and dying during the past 20 days. The PM had no welfare measures for them. The doctors, nurses and health workers have been struggling day and night, without proper PPEs and other medical equipments, to treat and save the covid-19 infected patients. The PM never mentioned a word about them. He has washed his hands and completely disowned his responsibilities towards them.
Type-6: Every state has a few corporate companies. Each corporate person could have adopted a few states and funded them directly. They did not do this. Instead, most of the corporate giants have donated to the newly created “PM Cares” fund. By doing this they have washed their hands and disowned their responsibilities towards their own states.
Type-7: Neither the Central government nor the State governments (except a few) are serious in setting up of Covid-19 Testing Centres and acquiring the essential PPEs for the doctors, nurses and paramedical workers. The government authorities are washing their hands by saying, “We have sent our requests to the central government and we are waiting for the Rapid Test Kits and PPEs”.
Type-8: Many doctors and nurses live in rented accommodation. It is shocking to note that the house owners are not allowing their tenants (doctors and nurses) to stay in the rented premises. Out of helplessness some doctors have converted their cars into their ‘dwelling places’. Similar rejections have been experienced by some airline staff too. The hard-heartened house owners have washed their hands.
Type-9: Education Department in every state is clueless about the re-opening of schools/colleges/universities. The students who are yet to write their semester/final exams are in dark. Some schools and colleges conduct ‘online classes’. Only 60 percent students have internet facilities in their houses. Almost 40 percent of the rural students do not have the internet facility in their villages and hence they are deprived of these classes. The school/college authorities have washed their hands saying, “We cannot do anything for these students”.
Type-10: The contractors and the employers of a vast majority of the migrant labourers have washed their hands. As a consequence, the migrant labourers have to march towards their native places facing starvation and deaths. All those migrant labourers who decided to stay in their own locations/work sites are being disowned by their employers.
Type-11: The NDTV interviewed the migrant labourers near Old Delhi railway station, New Friends colony and a few other areas in Delhi. A woman had delivered a child a few days back in her temporary shed. The woman and her husband were shown crying, “Sir, we are dying of hunger”. Some other labourers said, “We are surviving by one time food packet distributed by some volunteers”. It proves that the Delhi government, that claims to be a party of the ‘common man’ (aam admi), has washed it hands by not feeding these hungry people.
Type-12: When the migrant labourers walked several miles and reached their respective states/districts, the local administration washed its hands and did not exercise their responsibility of taking care of these labourers.
Type-13: The shocking and heartbreaking news was that many villages refused to allow the migrant labourers to enter their own villages. The village panchayat washed its hands.
Type-14: A woman of Jahagira village in Bhadohi district, UP had a fight with her husband for money and food in the wake of Covid-19 lockdown. Due to starvation she threw five of her children into Ganges. She too jumped into the river but later swam to the river bank. When this issue came to limelight, the local administration washed its hands saying, “We had no information about the condition of this family”.
Type-15: The maid who works in my flat came last week and said to my wife crying, “Madam, I work in six other flats in this Apartment (that consists of 60 flats). All those flat owners have asked me not to come for the work till the end of May. I have lost 2 months’ income. What to do?” Similar stories we heard from five other domestic workers. Their employers have washed their hands.
Type-16: Many private NGOs have paid only 75 percent of the March salary and they have informed the staff that the salary for April will not be paid as they are all staying at home. It is not that the NGOs do not have money. Although the budgeted fund is available, the concerned NGOs have washed their hands.
Type-17: Many banks are collecting EMIs for home loans and personal loans even during the lockdown period. The bank authorities have washed their hands saying, “We have no clear instruction from the RBI”.
Type-18: One of my friends in AP stood in the long queue continuously for 5 days to collect ration. The shop was getting closed before he reached the counter. On the 6th day when he reached the counter the shop owner said, “Sorry, the ration items are over”. There were more than fifty people still in the queue! The ration shop owner washed his hands and said, “The quota allotted to this shop is over. There will be no more supply”.
Type-19: Last week a Tamil TV channel showed an incident: In one ration shop in Tamil Nadu an elderly woman went with her BPL card hoping to get the ration. The ration shop owner washed his hands saying, “Sorry, there is no supply of ration for this card”.
Type-20: On 12 April one Tamil TV channel showed the interviews with the lonely footpath dwellers in Chennai city. Almost all of them said that they received food packet at least once a day from some volunteers. When they were asked whether the government did anything for them they replied, “Government has not done anything for us. It has washed its hands. We have voted for them but they have abandoned us. It is our fate”.
“Do I disown my duty and responsibility by washing my hands as a coward?” is the question that each one of us has to ask and find an answer.(Published on 27th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 18)