A+| A| A-

An Appeal to the Prime Minister during the Pandemic

[Excerpts from a letter to the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi]

Honourable Shri Narendra Modi,

Prime Minister of India

Respected Sir,

When the entire world is engaged in fighting the pandemic unleashed by the coronavirus, the people of our country have responded with utmost commitment to the public appeals you have made from time to time.

You did well in addressing the country three times for gearing up towards the fight against the pandemic. We feel distressed that in your appeals you chose to use the expression “social distancing.”

No one with a scientific bend of mind will deny that maintaining a safe distance among people is necessary in order to make the lockdown effective. However, using the expression “social distancing” for describing a scientific requirement is unfortunate. Though this expression is currently in circulation, the cultural and historical reference in the Indian context immediately evokes the age-old practice of untouchability, which is now banned by the Constitution.

In essence, untouchability prevailing under the caste system was nothing but maintaining a certain social distance from particular communities. The heinous practice is a disgrace not just for our country, but also a blot on humanity. M K Gandhi went through a long struggle against this “pandemic” of untouchability. He always maintained that the fight against untouchability was an essential part of the freedom struggle.

Bharatratna awardee B R Ambe­dkar, the architect of India’s Constitution, laid the cornerstone for the annihilation of caste discrimination. Our Constitution ended untouchability and has forever buried the menace of social distancing which was in practice in India for over two millennia.

Given this background, it was necessary that the Prime Minister carefully avoided using the expression “social distancing. On the contrary, at the time of lockdown, social relatedness is a greater need than social distancing. Perhaps, terms like “healthy distance” or “physical distanc­ing” would have been far more appropriate.

Various social scientists across the world have raised their concern about the use of the expression “social distancing.” The World Health Organization (WHO) has consciously decided to not use it and avoided using it since 20 March 2020. It prefers using the expression “social contentedness with physical distance.”

The expression “social distancing” is being echoed everywhere, in government’s publicity material, advertisements, and social, electronic and print media.

It is absolutely necessary to stop the use of this stigmatising term forthwith.

Perhaps using a direct term like “corona distancing” would be more appropriate. The hierarchy of the caste system—traditions of treating certain communities as greater human beings and others as secondary ones—is entirely based on the principle of “social distancing,” and, therefore, we are appealing to the media to stop the use of this term.

We urge you that in your capacity as the leader of the nation, the expression that is painful for millions of people in the country must be put out of official circulation.

We would like to appeal to you to take the necessary lead and assure the citizens of the country who are victimised by hatred and abhorrence.

It is true that for a country like ours, having limited resources, there was hardly any better option than imposing the lockdown. But before resorting to such a drastic measure, we should have thought in advance of the large number of daily wage earners. Had planning been done in advance, the inconvenience and gruelling difficulties faced by them could have been averted. The central and the state governments are required to undertake more measures for the people dependent on the government. All industries are closed down. All sources of livelihood are over. The people, in whose houses the daily meal is cooked in the evening out of the day’s earnings, do not have any resources left with them. Those working in shifts and sharing 8 × 10 feet rooms in cities are forced to lock themselves in, when their wives, parents and children are eagerly waiting for them at their native places. Such people are neither able to earn enough to feed themselves, nor are they able to reach their native places. It will be unfair to leave them to fend for themselves. It is necessary that at least food and cash-in-hand is immediately provided to all these hapless persons for their everyday needs.

The legendary Damaji Pant of the 12th century had opened the granaries for the people facing unprecedented drought. Following his footsteps, the government should now open India’s food godowns for the hungry. We have adequate stock of foodgrains and it is definitely more desirable to let the grains reach those who are in dire need, instead of letting them rot. 

The pandemic is causing more loss to India’s agriculture than droughts or excessive rains. The farmers are completely destroyed. They are forced to throw away or burn their standing crops. Ready-to-transport vegetables and flowers are rotting in agriculture fields. Fruits and vegetables are being sold at very low rates. Agriculture related livelihoods too are shattered.

Farmers who have not been able to sell their products due to the lockdown in this pandemic are required to be given generous financial assistance. Mere loan waivers or interest waivers will not do; something more substantial needs to be done, particularly since a large number of workers are leaving cities and going back to their rural locations.

We ardently hope that you will not disappoint the nation and will cover these issues in your next address to the nation.

We feel that since we have continued to neglect the health and education sectors, particularly for the poor, today, we are finding the approach of lockdown more convenient than going for massive testing of the suspected coronavirus patients.

We hope that, in the future, a serious thought will be given to these sectors and a matching budgetary allocation will be made for them rather than handing them over to non-state private actors.

We earnestly hope the government will act now and prevent the situation from getting out of hand.

Thanking you

Yours sincerely, 

Ganesh Devy

National President, Rashtra Seva Dal,

President, People’s Linguistic Survey of India,

Kapil Patil

Member, Maharashtra Legislative Council,

Executive Trustee, Rashtra Seva Dal, 

Atul Deshmukh

National general Secretary, Rashtra Seva Dal.

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top