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‘Distancings’ taking us away from making of aspirational, new, smart India-I

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*
We are going through difficult times now with the advent of the Covid-19 and the accentuation of the lockdowns. When the national address of March 24 (8.00pm) called for a total lockdown across the nation amid coronavirus fears, there was a stress on the need for Social Distancing. Now that we are in the lockdown-3, it seems that the Covid distancing is well understood and accepted pan India among the middle and the elite classes with no questions asked out of the Fear of the Unknown.
The same fear of the unknown has brought the poor people living in the cities, called as the migrant workers, in a state of wreck with big loss of employment and bigger loss of hope and trust of the society and the governing system. From things going on in this lockdown, an analogy can be also drawn for a lot of other Distancing(s) that are witnessed in the country across people of colour, class, caste, creed, sector and region.
While the stress of the oxymoronic Social Distancing for Covid is actually meaning Physical Distancing in its true regional translations besides it meaning ‘No’ congregation of people in public spaces. The lockdowns (now slipping to the fourth phase) to combat corona virus, is also a good time to reflect upon the Distances Drawn amidst the aspiration to Make a New India that is a Smart One.
It is no exaggeration to say that we have too many Distancing(s) in the society amongst us, besides we Distancing ourselves from the very Ecology/Mother Earth in the name of Development where Economy is seen as Everything and that too at the cost of Empathy. Climate Change impacts have come to us as a result of that, and who knows (until now) whether Covid is not one of the Climate Change impacts.
Anyway, though Ecology-Empathy shall remain at the core of everything, keeping them aside, the discussion here on some Distancing(s) that took place in the last few years in the aspiration to Make a New (Smart) India. From the long-standing Social Distancing to the Political, Economic, Judicial and Intellectual distancing(s), we have now arrived at the Physical Distancing, hence in summation we have come real far of distancing ourselves from Humanity.
Though the distancing(s) were implicitly present in the society from time immemorial, with on the one hand, social reformers worked (and are working) hard towards reducing the distances (gaps) but, on the other hand, the explicit use of state and social engineering mechanisms in the recent time has exposed the distances wide open in front of us.
Seeing them all coming together openly in the last few years is good in one way to bring reforms, but in other way, it is scary to find all these happening after we have advanced so much as a civilization. Is this the Making of a New (Smart) India? I’d like to refrain from such New (Smart) India. Rather, I’d like to optimistic towards a Better New Sensible-Sensitive India, and for that, the lockdown is a good time to retrospect and introspect to start discussing rooms for reforms.
What do we learn from Distancing and whether we would have learned from Distancing when we go past combating the Covid successfully (hopefully) after the lockdown periods? Will we evolve as more Humane Society? I shall remain optimistic on evolving towards Responsible Citizenship by better understanding the Distancing(s) in the recent times and how that harm the humanity more than making it happier and healthier. We were already in the departure of Distancing(s) much before the arrival of  Covid. Then, while Physical Distancing may be crucial at this moment, understanding the chronology of the other distancing(s) is worth and worrying in this New India.
Representative examples from each, Political, Economic, Judicial, and Intellectual Distancing(s) are discussed to share and shake you to think what is there beyond and between the Social and Physical Distancing(s). Here I share my thoughts on Political and Economic Distancing(s).
The Political Distancing, which is deeply rooted in the society’s culture, gets manifested through the election manifestos based on region, religion and rhetoric. For example, it was claimed in several elections that Ganga will be made clean and there will be a grand budget for the same which is also there.
Okay, that is fine and good but, that the other rivers in the country are equally polluted and vulnerable and require equal attention and budget (if not more) as Ganga, is totally missed in frequent mention which is not good. Note that Namami Gange is independent portfolio whereas all other rivers cumulatively come under the Ministry, also note that what the project (clean) could not do to the Ganga (and other rivers), the lockdown did it, which actually calls for relook at the project as well as the social norms of using rivers.
Further example, it was also claimed in the elections that Ram Mandir will be built which has already started with a grand budget alloted for it. Okay, that is fine and good too but, that other religions are equally important and must have same respect (and allocation) in the country, is totally missed out rather ignored which is not good. 
Mass exodus of the poor from cities will bring in extreme economic distancing where the middle and upper classes will be also affected
Besides, in the city planning approach, the ‘institutional’ landuse covers the uses such as, academic, social, religious, community and other institutions like crematorium/graveyard, research and training, etc. and that there is no specific landuse provision as a ‘land for religion’.
This on the one hand, keeps all institutions as equal but, on the other hand, leaves the development more discretional to the land ownership. Then, it is not surprising that in the country where religion is so affecting (and infecting), in this Covid times we are realising that there are lesser hospitals than religious buildings in our cities. My question will be then, should the government be discriminating between the rivers and the religious sites.
Okay, government must spend for the river cleaning, but should government be spending for ‘a’ temple construction in a city that hasn’t got its other required infrastructures in place like the, water supply, drainage, schools and hospitals. Furthermore example, is the rhetoric of a need for a ‘majority/one’ party (strong) government led to the exponential rise in the ‘horse trading’ of the political leaders changing parties state after state elections.
One may argue that the citizens are more politically aware and active than before (thanks to all types of news), it is no exaggeration to say that the monopolistic party politics is affecting (overpowering) the citizens democratic rights be it demonetisation in 2016 or Aadhar being compulsory or in the Covid time the mandate to install ArogyaSetu app. Honestly, I find the democracy drifting away from the intended ‘Maximum Governance-Minimum Government’ to other way around as ‘Maximum Government-Minimum Governance’.
The Economic Distancing is also deeply rooted in our pseudo socialist culture as manifested through the capitalistic and consumeristic occupation and lifestyle of the rich-middle class India vis-à-vis hand to mouth of the poor people. More of this distancing can be seen from the Labour Laws where IT guys, doctors, consultants, sports persons (especially cricketers), film stars, earn way too much (than they and their next generations can digest) and at the same time teachers, local authorities, police though earn a dignified income, yet are constantly finding ways to earn more.
Then there are those like sanitation workers, scavengers, domestic/industrial labours and a large section of the informal sectors earn meagerly to make their ends meet. This distancing affects the goals of welfare state of any society. While we never took enough steps to pragmatically reform the Labour Laws to alleviate the poverty because rules are made by those who are unaffected by the same. After the shocker of the Demonetization of 500- and 1000-rupees currency, the amended Labour Laws implemented in some states amid Covid is surprisingly shocking too.
While the Demonetization aimed to end corruption, terrorism and to tap the unaccounted money, ended up distancing the poor-rich gap more than ever besides changing the health of the overall economy, a few business houses did make a leaped growth while most of the MSMEs and informal sectors are yet to recover from the impacts of the demonetization, the poor people had the worst ever impact with loss of money as well as employments.
Now with this lockdown and shutting down of the economy suddenly, the mass exodus of the poor people from the cities will bring in extreme economic distancing where the middle and the upper class will be also affected.
Both the Political and Economic Distancing(s) reflect that we are socially distanced in the country and the policies too showcase that the vulnerable sections of the society are often duper while the privileged continue to receive the last supper.
***  
Anyway, wait for the Part II of my thoughts on Judicial and The Intellectual Distancing(s)… Jai Hind! 
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*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, Environmental Design Consultants, Ahmedabad. Professor, Amity School of Architecture and Planning, Amity University, Raipur (Chhattisgarh). Click here for Part 2 and here for Part 3 of the article

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