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Admin 2020-04-18

18 Apr 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis

1) Testing and more


The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has reported that the number of samples tested daily for COVID-19 crossed 30,000 on Thursday. This is nearly four times the number of samples tested daily at the beginning of the month and almost double the number at the end of last week.


On Thursday, ICMR also made the reassuring announcement that it has started testing in areas which have no COVID-19 cases, using the serological method. The use of this method is likely to be scaled up with the country finally receiving the long-delayed consignment of 5 lakh antibody testing kits from China — another 6,50,000 kits have, reportedly, been dispatched from Guangzhou. However, by all accounts, India’s demographics will constrain(restrict) testing on the scale deployed by global leaders such as South Korea and Germany. It is imperative(needful), therefore, that the country makes smart use of testing kits.


The ICMR has clarified that the rapid antibody testing kits “will be used for surveillance(observation)” and not for diagnosis. In several countries, the serological method — a rapid antibody test that shows if a person once infected by the coronavirus has developed immunity(the ability of an organism to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific antibodies) to it — is used to track the trajectory of COVID-19 in clusters. In India, too, the ICMR’s protocol prescribes these tests to ascertain the success of containment methods in the hotspots.

However, it seems that even in clusters with a high caseload, COVID-19 patients are not being tracked in time. For example, as reported by this newspaper, 72 households had to be quarantined in a Delhi locality, parts of which have been notified as hotspots, after they had come into contact with a coronavirus-positive pizza delivery employee. This patient, reportedly, had a persistent cough since the last week of March but continued to work till April 13.


States which have had success in the battle against COVID-19 — notably Kerala — have complemented testing with a robust(strong) disease surveillance system. Healthcare workers have taken the help of local communities and volunteers to reach out to people who show COVID-19 symptoms and counsel them to self-isolate before they are examined by doctors and tested for the coronavirus. The expansion of such syndromic surveillance in all the 170-odd hotspots could obviate(prevent) cases like that of the South Delhi patient.


It is important, of course, that such surveillance eschews(avoids) any shows of high-handedness. The country’s high population density and its social and economic diversity dictate that it employs an array of methods in its fight against COVID-19, not just testing.


2) Alone together


The marketplace and the public square since the very inception of the city have been at the heart of public life and social interaction. And neither the pandemic, nor the pandemic-fuelled transition to the digital age, seems to have diminished(decline) the centrality and role of these spaces.


On Thursday, Wall Street rallied as Amazon and Netflix stocks soared because of the lockdown. In addition, video conferencing apps like Zoom have seen an exponential rise in value. Their ephemeral(lasting for a very short time) existence notwithstanding, each of these services mimics, respectively, the bazaar, the Colosseum (entertainment in ancient Rome) and the agora (public square in ancient Athens). But despite their financial success, the digital alternatives to social life have been found wanting.


For those who haven’t directly faced a deep disruption to their lives — hunger, unemployment, disease and dislocation — due to COVID-19, online giants have indeed provided comfort and convenience. Yet, people who binge-watched shows on OTT services, pre-pandemic, remember with nostalgia on social media their love for the theatre. The desire to go to a restaurant cannot be replaced by ordering in; the joys of the company of colleagues and comrades aren’t quite the same in an online meeting. Even the small interactions with people on public transport, at shops, have become a thing of value. Isolation has led to a boom for online platforms. It is also making people realise that a digital life isn’t enough.

( OTT, an over-the-top media service is a streaming media service offered directly to viewers via the Internet. OTT bypasses cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms, the companies that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content)


The digital alternative can provide for people’s wants and even the means for physical sustenance. But without others, the self crumbles; even the greatest narcissists need an audience. Perhaps that’s why people are reaching out in their neighbourhoods, performing music and theatre through windows, coming together to applaud the otherwise unseen and unrecognised, like sanitation workers. The mimicry of civilisation online just isn’t enough. In isolation, perhaps, people will realise why no one can go it alone.


3) India, Pakistan, Turkey are going back to religion. There is a better way


Subramanian Swamy, a BJP leader, says Muslims are not equal citizens since they pose a threat to the world and “On this issue, the country is with us and most people like our hardline approach to solving pending problems”. He added: “Where the Muslim population is large, there is always trouble.”

Not long ago a Pakistani poet (now late) Fahmida Riaz, on the run from General Zia ul Haq’s Islamisation, lived in India for a time and realised that religion, as opposed to India’s constitutionally-ordained secularism, was on the rise. She wrote her now-famous poem whose title conveyed the message: “You turned out to be just like us.” Many years later, Hindutva may change India forever.


M A Jinnah began as a “Muslim” leader by owning the “Islamic state”. His Eid message in 1945 encapsulated(summarize) what Pakistan was to become two years later: “Everyone, except those who are ignorant, knows that the Quran is the general code of the Muslims and our Prophet has enjoined(encourage) on us that every Musalman should possess a copy of the Quran and be his own priest.”

But Jinnah also admired Kamal Ataturk, who secularised Turkey after banishing the Islamic system of Khilafat over which Muslims staged public demonstrations in India but from which Jinnah absented himself, as did the national poet, Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Today, Turkey has followed the path of Pakistan — “just like us” —making it three states that have gone back to religion in the 21st century. The only difference is that, while India and Turkey are doing well, Pakistan is belly-up economically.


Turkey went secular in 1937 when its constitution declared it so, but in 2016, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) speaker in the elected parliament declared that the new constitution “should be a religious constitution”. The parliament, however, did not vote in favour of his “religious” vision. But with the empowerment of Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Islamisation went ahead, and the state wanted “that under Islamic law girls as young as nine could marry” while the Turkish law prohibited marriage under the age of 16. AKP ideologues even wanted left-handed eaters to be punished.


Just as Pakistan went for the textbooks to ground Islamisation, Turkey too has revised schoolbooks celebrating the founders of the Turkish Republic. Instead, Ottoman, Arabic and Quranic subjects have been inserted and, “evolution” banished(expel) to “protect national values”. In Pakistan, Imran Khan has decided to create a “uniform curriculum” for the ideological state of Pakistan, aimed indirectly at the English-medium schools carrying a “liberal-secular” worldview in their textbooks.


Saudi Arabia, once the bastion of conservative Islam, is trying to liberalise a faith that has become dehumanised through “compulsory jihad”, getting together with Egypt to oppose Turkey’s “Ottomanism” that once enslaved the Arabs. Pakistan has been the cradle of this “experimental” jihad and has come to grief in our times. Pakistan has evolved under an “ideology”, which it borrowed as a utopian concept from the Soviet Union, ignoring the fact that in a utopia there can be no opposition.


Are we going to have two opposed religious utopias sitting next to each other in South Asia? Pakistan has tried warlike “revisionism” and has come to grief twice, once in 1971 and again at Kargil, where it was defeated in 1999. As the soldiers of Hindutva strong-arm their way to utopia, the nuclearised dystopia(an imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice) of Pakistan is still nursing its Ghazwa-e-Hind dream, in which the Prophet PBUH himself will fight the infidels(kafirs).


Can we roll back the religious state and the utopia(an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect) of violent suppression of the variant point of view? Pakistan and India can prosper by becoming good trading partners, linking up with China and Iran and Central Asia where India still enjoys a lot of goodwill. Ideological Pakistan is learning its lessons the hard way, but India has an intellectual elite recognised the world over that can help an overpopulated South Asia evolve into a region of peace and prosperity.