By: Prof. Pradeep Mathur
NEW DELHI: Protective measures from Corona infection are a must and social distance in one such important measure. Closure of educational institutions, places of worship and ban on social gatherings, therefore, make perfect sense. However, what does not make sense to me is reduction in shopping hours and office timing of public utility services like power and water.
My contention is easy to understand. Take for example that in a certain area the number of inhabitants is 1,000 and the number of shops is 10 which an inhabitant visits once in two days on an average to meet his needs. Now see the simple calculation? On an average each shop will have 50 customers in a day. If shops open for 5 hours each shop will have 50 customers at an average rate of 10 customers in an hour.. If it opens for 10 hours, it will have half as many customers every hour. Fewer customers per hour will mean lesser interpersonal proximity and lesser chances of catching infection.
However, since the process of unlocking has begun the restrictions on shop timings will also go. But a far more serious problem stares at us and it is not the problem of the great economic downslide which we can easily anticipate .It is the problem of personal and social disorganization in the post Corona world about which we are not even aware of. And the scene may be really dreadful,But how could a simple health protection measure have such serious implications?
To understand this we will have to first stop seeing the world from our educated urban middle class perspective which does not allow us to see the grim social reality of our society down below. And then we must also come out of our highly self-righteous frame of mind and accept the fact that our society does not care for the poor, the aged and the helpless senior citizens the way other societies in the world do.
To a society that is given to practice untouchability, discrimination on the basis of caste and creed and taboo on inter-caste marriages as a social norm , distance and discrimination comes natural .The need for social distancing to save ourselves from infection has unfortunately dented the spirit of accommodation, which anyway was not a strong point with our society.
But a bigger disaster awaits on family front for aged persons with poor or no resources, especially those who are unwilling dependents on their callous children of poor self culture. The “Protect Yourself from Virus” campaign rightly identified senior citizens as belonging to the vulnerable category. But I am afraid it could be interpreted as the 65+ people being dispensable by their families. The obtaining social reality is so grim that we need legislation and courts to ensure that children maintain their parents.
Corona has no doubt destroyed the world’s economy. However, the infrastructure is intact and sooner or later we will regain economic health. However, the social disaster it has caused will be too difficult to handle. In a society like ours which is undergoing an acute moral and ethical crisis the social ramifications of quarantine at home and social distancing out of home will have grave psychological implications.
Blinded by greed and glamour of a consumerist economy our youngsters, especially in the lower income brackets, are fast losing all traditional values and cultural moorings. The behavior change caused by Corona will further the process of alienation and lead to personal and social disorganization affecting family values and life.
It is high time social scientists and opinion leaders, social or religious, address themselves to this problem and find ways and means to avert this impending social disaster. The government should also seriously think of strong social security measures for senior citizens which may ensure them an honourable and decent life.
Prof. Pradeep Mathur, a veteran journalist and a former Professor at IIMC, New Delhi, is Editor of Media map, a monthly thought journal on current affairs & Advisor cum Chief Consulting Editor-ICN Group.