Wailing mothers, grieving children and the helplessness of marginalised people mock our politics
Driven by a compelling need to unburden an unbearable sense of grief, this article is also a supplication for divine mercy in these calamitous times. It is about the moral impoverishment of an ancient society and wanton abandonment of empathy, that is an essential condition of our coexistence.
Proud citizens of a resurgent nation that seeks a place on the high table of global politics have been reduced to beggary -- begging for a gasp of breath, a ventilator, a hospital bed and medicines, a chance to be vaccinated on a non-discriminatory basis, transportation of the sick and the deceased, sources of information for medical relief and, above all, a cylinder of oxygen to buy time in a hope to live, have robbed us of our innate dignity which defines our humanity. The trauma of seeing a loved one slip away gasping for breath while struggling to hold on to life, wanting to live, is a burden too heavy to carry, and I should know, having lost my wife to lung failure. That she did not go due to lack of oxygen seems like a divine benediction today.
And we die a thousand deaths suffering the loss of our soul every time our dignity is wounded, when the dead do not find space in cremation grounds, when bodies are piled one upon the other waiting to be cremated even as unending funeral pyres test the boundaries of our grief, when the helpless die in rickshaws, scooters and makeshift ambulances outside hospital gates for want of oxygen or
hospitalisation -- alone and in the cold without family or friends, when the nearest and dearest ones are forced to turn away or when nurses steal critical drugs to profiteer over human misery. When an elderly patient gives up his bed to save the life of a younger person or when the allocation of a ventilator depends on the age of the patient, we know what we are or have become -- a savage society.
How else can we respond to Sahir Ludhiyanvi’s damning interrogatory: “Kahan hain, kahan hain muhafiz khudi ke” (Whither the sentinels of honour), except by way of humble repentance for our moral, political and societal excesses? Living with the thought of dying alone with no one to hold our hand in the last moments, not able to feel the warmth of those who are integral to our lives… remains a mourning in perpetuity.
Loneliness, as Mother Teresa had reminded us, is about the feeling of being unloved. Thoughts about the futility of human relationships and about the dispensability of those who define us have added to an unprecedented sense of aloneness. Gulzar’s poignant verse depicting a decline in human togetherness even in normal times has an added resonance today: “Zindagi yun hui basar tanha, kafila saath aur safar tanha” (Life lived alone, surrounded by a crowd). And now we are compelled to be alone even in death. Hopefully, this will not be
the life we want for the generations to come.
Wailing mothers, grieving children and the helplessness of marginalised people mock our politics and proclaim a failure of the dignitarian promise of our national charter. Our “raucous” democracy remains enthralled with electoral triumphs and the vanquishing of political opponents even as the nation’s soul is scarred beyond all recognition. The political parties are complicit in their failure to prevent large gatherings, protest movements or religious congregations -- all of which are responsible for the pandemic’s massive surge across the country. Our exalted institutions of democracy, including Parliament, the Election Commission and even the Supreme Court, have failed the nation. Despite its celebrated jurisprudence on human rights issues, our highest court’s inability to issue binding judicial diktats against the holding of massive electoral rallies during the time of a pandemic is wholly inexplicable considering the indisputable evidence that huge physical gatherings compromise the social distancing norms and the legally enforceable Covid-related protocols. An eloquent newspaper headline about a high court sums up in varying degrees the unintended but failure nevertheless, of our constitutional institutions. It reads: “High court hearing, plea to get ICU bed, man dies in wait”. (Indian Express, May 1)
Clearly, in matters of life and death, judicial inaction cannot be passed off as an act of judicial restraint. The constitutional courts with a large remit need not be reminded that securing the right to life is the first charge on the exercise of judicial power and that in moments of test, justice and judgment cannot lie apart.
Politicians for their part must know that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” and that the excesses of power are invariably called to account. We must all accept that the embrace of humility coupled with a rejection of hubris is, in the order of things, both a sign of strength and a condition of our existence. Although the anguish and deep sorrow that drives this article is beyond the “realm of articulate thought”, the soaring and silent ache in the heart begs no expression. We know that grief, felt in the innermost recesses of our being, heals even if it is a terrible burden of being, and that “God brings men in deep waters not to drown them but to cleanse them”.
The writer is a former Union law minister