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Seeds of equitable, environment-friendly society amidst coronavirus crisis

By Sandeep Pandey*
The coronavirus threat has forced governments to impose a disruptive change in our life styles, which may seem very inconvenient and irritating to us in the present circumstances, but it may be worth considering to continue with some of these changes in the interest of society, economy and environment.
The modern economy involved unnecessary travel, both long term long distance and local home to office. We should consider the option of work from home for the kind of jobs where it doesn't affect the operations. Lot of work on computer can certainly be carried out from homes, for example, in the information technology, media, online marketing, education, consultancy sectors.
Similarly if we were to follow the Gandhian philosophy of strengthening local economies, people will not have to move long distance for employment. It would be a good policy to provide employment closer to home.
Similarly, it is an opportunity to think of reducing the rural-urban divide. It is the official policy of government to move people from agriculture sector to manufacturing and service sectors.
For a country like India, agriculture provides employment to maximum number of people, the problem is with lack of respectable income here. Farmer suicides are a proof of un-profitability of this sector. The government policy should be to make this sector vibrant so that it can absorb large number of people. Agriculture related industries should all be located in rural areas so that people don't have to move to cities for working in factories there.
Trying to move people from agriculture to manufacturing and service sectors, a model which may have been successful for Europe and United States, will worsen the unemployment situation in India. A cut in both long distance and local transportation will reduce our fossil fuel needs and pollution levels significantly which will be a desirable gain.
Gandhi had said that transportation is a human need but not rapidity of transportation. In a time when we are denied all transportation we should reflect on whether we really need fuel guzzling rapid transport? If we reduce the pace of our life styles we may not feel the need of rapid transport.
Of course, we'll have to make adjustments to plan our trips well. There are individuals amongst us from even before the coronavirus crisis, most notably Greta Thunberg, who as conscious choice do not use air travel. There have been people like Professor GD Agrawal of Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur fame, who died fasting for conservation of Ganga in 2018, who chose not to travel by Air Conditioned class in train.
Shops are open only for a few hours. This has forced us to change our consumerist behaviour and now we think of buying the only very essential items necessary for our survival. Gandhi had said that keeping more than what we need is akin to theft.
A cut in both long distance and local transportation will reduce our fossil fuel needs and pollution levels significantly
Even the shopkeepers have become sensitive to not just make profits but try to fulfill needs of as many customers as possible. Lots of businessmen are willing to forgo their profits as they think serving the humanity is the need of hour.
World will be a much better place to live in if the profit motive was replaced by a sense of trying to meet people's basic needs, which is a sense of service, of course, ensuring that businesses make enough for survival of those involved in it.
Liquor, tobacco, etc. are unavailable and they should remain so even after lockdown.
There is a realisation that money is not everything. Even if you have money but you're not able to buy things then what use is it? Families have been telling their members who migrated for employment to big cities to return home as they feel that being with family is more important than the money that they will bring.
That is the reason we see the unexpected phenomenon of people walking back home to hundreds and even close to a thousand kilometre when they were left stranded because of lack of transportation.
People have not seen the humane face of police in states like the Uttar Pradesh. It is a welcome change that police instead of cracking lathis and busy killing 'criminals' in encounters is serving food to homeless and people walking back home on streets. A need is also felt to lighten the burden of jails. Lesser the number of people in jail, better it is for the society. Ideally there should be no jails, only reform homes should suffice. Death sentence should be abolished.
Governments in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan made commendable attempts to take over some private hospitals. At the time of coronavirus crisis there is a recognition that a critical sector like health care cannot be left to private sector because the main motive of private sector is again to make profit. 
A Uttar Pradesh High Court judge Sudhir Agrawal has said in two separate judgements delivered earlier that people receiving government salaries must use government schools and hospitals thereby strengthening government system so that the common citizen is also benefitted because of this. If all schools and colleges belonged to government it could use all that space to house people in times of crisis like this. 
The government has taken a decision to pass all students up to class VIII. There was already a no detention policy which the Bhartiya Janata Party led government had done away with. Examination should be delinked from education to increase the importance of learning.
Examination is needed only when we need to select a limited number of people from a larger pool. Evaluation at school to university level should be only qualitative to eliminate the element of competition among fellow learners.
In a welcome change, UP police instead of cracking lathis or killing 'criminals', is serving food to homeless, people walking back home
The government is taking steps for welfare of poor. Government has become conscious that nobody should go hungry and nobody should sleep on streets. Actually, it should have ensured these basic dignities to all human beings much earlier after India became a democracy. Nevertheless, if there is a realisation now, it should continue even after the coronavirus threat is over.
Marriages and funerals are being observed with simplicity with minimum attendance. The fanfare and the associated expenditure with such social events are really unnecessary which will prevent indebtedness of some and free the society of some corruption.
The religious institutions are closed. People are praying at home which is the model followed at Anandwan established near Nagpur by Baba Amte. This practice should continue and all religious places should be converted to schools, hospitals, libraries or community kitchens like 'langars' in Gurudwaras. In fact all religious activities in public should be done away with.
The crisis has brought out the best in us. People are trying to help fellow human beings survive. Sense of camaraderie has been evoked in people, also because they have time to reflect, so that they are even willing to take the risk by ignoring government's advice of maintaining social (physical is the correct description) distance, wearing masks, using sanitisers, etc. to come out of their homes to help others. That nobody should die of hunger is everybody's priority.
There is a realisation that at a human level all are equal and have equal right to survive. We hope such a sense of equality and fraternity will overcome traditional caste, class and religious divides prevalent in our society even after the coronavirus threat is gone.
---
*Magsaysay award winning social activist, vice-president, Socialist Party (India)

Comments

Mudit said…
Excellent article !
Despite the best of the efforts, we humans could not come together to take action on climate change. However this lock-down has done what we couldn't. And it is pleasantly surprising that environment has healed remarkably in just 15 days of lock-down.
So I would like to recommend to the world governments to observe a complete shutdown of two weeks every year in a planned manner so that it does not hamper work. At the same time it heals the environment.
- Mudit

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