COVID-19 and societal lessons
Conversation with Professor Rajendra Kshetri

Yumlembam Khogen Singh *

This is the excerpt of the transcript of telephonic interview with Professor Rajendra Kshteri by the author. It is an outcome of a follow up discussion on his recent popular articles on the present Novel Coronavirus pandemic that were published in The Sangai Express, the largest circulated English daily in Manipur.

Kshetri Rajendra Singh: KRS
Yumlembam Khogen Singh: YKS

YKS: Sir, I have gone through your recent popular write-ups on the present COVID-19 pandemic in The Sangai Express. Your articles offer answers but also compel inquisitive readers to put intriguing questions. For example, the most prescribed preventive measure of COVID-19 turns out to be practicing or maintaining 'social distancing'. However, human being's gregarious nature is not use to 'social distancing'. Here, what would you like to suggest so that people can expedient social distancing to avoid contracting Coronavirus disease?

KRS: Thank you Khogen for having gone through my two recent articles on COVID-19 published in The Sangai Express.

They are not data/ empirical based scientific research papers, as you know that I am not a microbiologist / virologist/ epidemiologist. Of all the preventive/ precautionary measures, I have emphasized on 'social distancing' not as a vaccine/ antidote as such but more of a social medicine that could be practiced/ implemented by everyone with no cost.

You are right, man (read human being) is a 'social animal' and gregarious by nature. This is where one's commitment and seriousness to fight COVID-19 come in the picture.

We need to change our (social) behavior at least for a finite period and got to be 'unsocial'. 'Social distancing', I would say again, is the easiest and most effective measure to prevent further spread of Coronavirus.

YKS: Government of India has responded well with various advisories, strategies, and programmes to combat the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. Even though India is now at a crucial juncture in its fight against COVID-19, different sections of the society have responded differently in the midst of this pandemic. How do you look at it?

KRS: India is one of the few countries who has responded quite early to the outbreak of COVID-19 with such measures as 'Janata Curfew' and lockdown. It has been accepted by the world leaders that India is doing much better in battle against the pandemic.

But yes, India being a multi-cultural and pluralistic country, there are certain sections of people who have responded differently to the government's advisories. For instance, we all have seen how some sections of people have attended religious congregations, social parties, etc. in complete violations of the advisories/ directives.

This is very unfortunate. I would even say - unwarranted. Here, the government is doing everything it can to stop the pandemic- a pandemic that threatens the very survival of humans. The least we, as citizens of the country, could and must do is comply with the advisories and stand united with the country.

YKS: Sir, surprisingly developed countries have more corona causality than developing or underdeveloped countries. The so-called developed countries which claim to have the best of health system and facilities are now exposed. Here, do you see any link between developed countries' failed response to COVID-19 pandemic and neo-liberal capitalism?

KRS: The so-called 'developed' countries such as USA, UK, Italy, and Spain, etc. are worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and their much flaunted health care systems stand exposed. But I am not really surprised as you seem to sound Khogen.

The 'laissez faire' economies/ policy (with too much emphasis on free market) of allowing private sectors to develop without government control has failed to evoke public response to national/ international

crisis especially to a pandemic such as COVID-19. You see, this outbreak has called for more active role for government and state planning. It is not the private sector but the public sector which is now playing a major role in the fight against Coronavirus.

And I think that had the Italians heeded to their Prime Minister's call, Italy wouldn't have been affected so severely. So that way, you could say that the developed countries' failed response to COVID-19 has something to do with neo-liberalism / neo-liberal capitalism.

YKS: In the midst of speculated ramifications of the present COVID-19 pandemic, various measures to combat the pandemic like lockdown, social distancing, etc. have also shown some positive effects, say in terms of environmental restoration, resurrection of nature, inculcating hygienic habits, stronger family bonding, etc. Here, I would like to know how such positive developments could be sustained as new normal to avert future catastrophes.

KRS: This is what I call the 'other side of coronavirus' or if you prefer, the positive side of coronavirus. Following the Corona outbreak, and preventive/ precautionary measures adopted such as social distancing, lockdown/ curfew, stay home/ home quarantine, the 'nature' is now reclaiming its lost- I would say stolen- space.

The environment has become less polluted. You just have to look around and you can feel clean air, clean atmosphere, and cleaner water bodies. You could also see animals coming out/ moving freely in the open air, less threatened. You could see/ hear more birds singing, chirping and chatting secured in the feeling that no human will be/ is around to disturb them.

On the personal/ home front too, this pandemic has literally forced us to be more hygienic, stay at home, and spend time with family members thereby increasing family bonding. These are healthy changes taking place amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. These changes could be sustained, difficult as it may, if we human are ready to undergo a radical change in our attitudes and behavior vis--vis environment.

YKS: Sir, an optimistic perspective says that the present COVID-19 pandemic will culminate someday. Therefore, can you envision of its long term implications in our socio-economic life, habits, worldviews, and policy? I meant, would our lives remain as the same even in post COVID-19 pandemic? If no, what should we learn from this global pandemic for more secured and healthier future?

KRS: Like everything else, Coronavirus pandemic will pass. Post COVID-19, everything will be changed, how we look at/ treat others, how we relate ourselves to nature, how we look at the government, etc.

Life will never be the same again. COVID-19 is a global crisis, unlike any other crises.

We can turn this crisis into an opportunity if humans (read world leaders, thinkers, policy makers) can visualize a new social order and a new world order where 'nature' and environment is brought back to the center stage of 'development' planning.

YKS: Sir, thank you very much for your valuable time. Let's #StayHome # StaySafe.

* Yumlembam Khogen Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Manipur University and can be reached at ykhogen(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 02 2020.

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