‘This is a crime against Humanity’
‘The system hasn’t collapsed. The government has failed. Perhaps “failed” is an inaccurate word, because what we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity. Virologists predict that the number of cases in India will grow exponentially to more than 500,000 a day. They predict the death of many hundreds and thousands in the coming months, perhaps more. My friends and I have agreed to call each other every day to mark ourselves as present, like roll call in our school classrooms. We speak to those we love in tears, and trepidation, not knowing if we will ever see each other again. We write, we work, not knowing if we will live to finish what we started. Not knowing what horror and humiliation awaits us. The indignity of it all. That is what breaks us.’
On India’s Covid catastrophe: Arundhati Roy – The Guardian 29th April 2021
My wife, Maggie, and I consider we have many homes, including the one we are renting at the moment in the solitude of the North Dorset countryside. A significant number of these homes are in India.
Fifty years ago this coming September I stepped on to an old single decker bus at Clapham Common to join twenty other people for a ten week trip overland to India. I was a naïve, hesitant nineteen year old, a somewhat isolated product of professional middle-class privilege. The journey ahead was to open my mind to an extraordinary diversity of life and ways of living. I was able to adapt and change with the flowing countryside and disparate people as we made our slow journey eastwards across Europe. Once we had entered Asia, traversed Afghanistan, driven through the Khyber Pass and crossed the Pakistan border into India just two weeks before a war between the two countries that would result in the newly independent country of Bangladesh, the goal was reached.
I loved India then.
Twenty years later Maggie and I, individually, began to take groups of students aged from sixteen to nineteen from the school at which we were working to Rajasthan to learn from people in Jaipur and some surrounding villages. Ten years after that we began to make regular visits to India together, visiting schools associated with the work of Jiddu Krishnamurti, educational institutions founded by Rabindranath Tagore, and other fascinating places where work was being done around education, ecology and biodiversity.
We have made so many friends, received so much kindness and affection over the years, and joined in so much laughter and happiness. Occasionally, we have also shared the sadness at the passing of friends – truly feeling that we are part of a wide community. Perhaps it is because all the places we are associated with are informed by philosophies which care for the young, the vulnerable, and the poor.
India, however, is a chaotic place full of dangers, contradictions and misery. Where so often life seems cheap, and emotions run high. Travelling is intense and there is always a sense of gratitude when the destination has been safely reached. The appalling poverty of so many people is so evident on the streets of the cities and towns and in the villages. How are we supposed to react as descendants of the white colonialists that looted and divided that vast sub-continent?
Nevertheless, India has been our constant teacher where learning has been a continuous process, and conclusions are rarely found. So many paradoxes emerge in discussions, in chance meetings, fleeting observations, sights, sounds and smells that invade the senses. Sweeping statements about life rarely work, and spending time in India makes that clear every day. So much is nuanced, ambiguous, what you see is not necessarily what is. Relationships are lived out through a background of caste, creed, economic status, gender and, not least to our sensibility of British politeness (superficial and hypocritical?), considerable cultural differences. Being aware of our own cultural biases is vitally important. It is only then that understanding can come about through suspension of judgement when observing and listening.
Now, as we watch the destruction, horror and intense suffering so many people are enduring as the result of the Covid catastrophe, the wisdom, much of which has emerged from India, of living with humility and compassion is teaching us the need to care for each other. The Indian government, like many others, including the UK, has a “strong man” at its head and is set on making money rather than looking after its citizens, and in order to do this it is deliberately divisive. The provision of affordable healthcare for all has never been a priority - if you have money there are excellent hospitals in most cities, if you don’t have money, and especially if you live in rural India, there is almost no healthcare provision.
Arundhati Roy’s article ends: ‘No, India cannot be isolated. We need help.’
There are individuals in India with vast amounts of money, there are corporations in India with vast amounts of money, and there are countries in the world with more than they need to address the pandemic. Meanwhile, our sisters and brothers are experiencing terrible pain, fear and loss.
Action is happening, but will we all learn the lesson of these desperate times?