It’s now or never: Let’s not forget our social responsibilities
To expect our people to show total conformity to the preventive measures against Covid 19, announced by the Indian government is, in fact, to expect a little too much. Some of the mandatory measures such as wearing a mask in public spaces, social distancing, self-isolation or quarantining (in both symptomatic or asymptomatic cases) and getting tested if showing symptoms are some of the important guidelines we are expected to follow. Apart from this, we are also expected to wash our hands frequently; sanitise our living and work spaces, including the surfaces we frequently touch during the course of our activities.
Though some people follow these guidelines scrupulously, a majority of Indians don’t think twice before flouting them. We have noticed how social distancing is not always maintained when people are present in public spaces. Something as simple as a mask is often not worn because people say it’s unhealthy or that it’s not going to make much of a difference. There have been other more disturbing violations such as people escaping from hospitals while quarantined or others turning violent when questioned why they were not following the protocol. Initially, when the pandemic had just struck, people also made a deliberate attempt to hide their symptoms or their contact history. Cases of mass congregations, parties or social get-togethers too were reported.
This brings us to a pertinent question: How are people expected to conduct themselves in critical times? Are we, as a society, expected to behave responsibly or irresponsibly? Even when things are normal, we Indians, take special delight in flouting norms or the rules, without bothering about our communities and adopting a ‘me first’ approach, not thinking twice about jumping the queue or the red-light or worrying about accidents or inconvenience caused to others.
We also have no respect for the law of the land, a fact demonstrated by the Indian police using lathis to force the people stay indoors during the lockdown. It was only the fear of the rod, not concern for others, that kept people from stepping out of their homes. Things got so bad that even the government had to threaten its own defaulting citizens with legal action, that too to help them stay alive and healthy!
When people were asked to beat thalis or light candles as a mark of respect for the corona warriors, they hit the roads and started celebrating, disregarding all social distancing rules. They started assembling in groups in their respective residential colonies/flats or apartments as though the crisis was over, and it was time for celebration and victory. This above all, defeated the very purpose for which our Prime Minister had announced this initiative.
It is quite evident that a society that doesn’t follow rules and shows scant regard for the principle of collective social responsibility and welfare in the normal times, is bound to flounder in times of a crisis as severe as this.
In such crucial times, what we need to understand is that our actions have consequences, not only for us, but also for others. A single mistake in terms of socially irresponsible behaviour won’t only cost us dear, but also take a heavy toll on our fellow citizens, our neighbours, and our community. This kind of lack of social responsibility has, unfortunately, been demonstrated by all sections of our society, illiterate, semi-literate, educated and highly skilled professionals. This is a moment of reckoning for all of us, and we must think of how we cannot only help ourselves but also those around us.
After all, fear of law can’t become the governing principle of regulating human behaviour in a society. Ultimately, all civilized societies depend upon the awareness of the individual citizens and also on their ability to conduct themselves in a free, fair and yet responsible manner. How long can the fear be used as a deterrent to prevent dangerous and threatening behaviour in the face of Covid-19 pandemic?
It is time, we, the citizens, understood our own role and responsibility in limiting the spread and transmission of Covid-19. The government is doing what it can but when it is such a grave situation, all of us must come together and realize our social responsibility. All it requires is some deep introspection and cultivation of discipline, respect for the law of the land and an ability to feel for and connect with our fellow citizens.
And yet, this is too serious to be left to the discretion or whims of the individuals. In order to achieve this social objective, if we have to reboot our education system, it is well worth the effort. We can incorporate the community welfare practices into our education system, right from the primary stage to the university level. This will help our future citizens develop a strong sense of ethics.
The author is assistant professor at Government PG College, Sector-1, Panchkula