Does the Current Crisis call for Greater Social Responsibility?

By Shruti Pushkarna

Locked up in their homes, some people are busy forwarding irrational WhatsApp messages, propagating panic via unreliable information. Some are busy competing for a bigger Instagram audience through culinary exhibits or workout videos. And then there are some who simply sit and criticise the ‘other’, including administration, media, politicians, other countries, liberals, bhakts, Muslims, Christians, their next door neighbors and possibly even their pets!

While a person might be struggling to stay alive because of a chronic condition in the absence of a caretaker to assist her or him due to the lockdown, another’s problems hover around having to do dishes or cook their own food.

People are oblivious to each other’s realities. Even at a point of being universally hit by coronavirus, we only care for ourselves or at most our immediate family. That’s how selfish we all are. We don’t pay heed to what’s happening to a daily wager, a blind hawker, a disabled orphan, a thalassaemia patient, a paraplegic or anyone who’s more vulnerable than us.

I want to appeal to the media fraternity to spread awareness and help citizens of India gain some perspective into what another human being could be experiencing at the same time in an alternate reality. Except this one’s not fictional.

There is a need to report stories from across the spectrum. Not just the ones that make for an ‘OMG’ moment, not just the shortlived coverage of immigrants’ mass exodus, but day-to-day accounts of those who get beaten up standing in lines for ration, of disabled people who’ve been abandoned by their institutions, unwilling to take responsibility. Of siblings shunning away their disabled brothers and sisters, of persons with severe disabilities losing out on (an already meagre) means of living.

I work for a non-profit which runs a helpline for persons with vision impairment and we’ve been getting calls from all parts of India. Callers are citing challenges in getting medicines, milk, groceries, or getting curfew passes issued for their caretakers. People with other disabilities are reporting similar challenges, some are even unable to communicate to the cops stationed in different cities that their condition makes visits to hospital pertinent for survival despite the lockdown.

Not that desperate stories from various strata of society aren’t making news but when we speak of a section that is anyway marginalised and faceless, one can imagine how grave their situation is and thus the need for greater emphasis.

Statistics and graphics, updated every few minutes are being shoved at us, highlighting the rising impact of the pandemic. Is this a cricket match that people are tuning in to keep a tab on the latest score? Why do we have so many debates on whether we are in Stage 1, 2 or 3? How about asking some tough questions on how differently should we as a country be prepared for the various stages? What will happen to the weaker sections of the population under different circumstances and imposed measures?

Governments have asked for essential items to be distributed for free to those in need. But no proper procedure has been spelt out. While some places are generously handing out material, others are insisting on a ration card. In the absence of one, people are being asked to apply for it online. What is stopping the media from questioning the administration on how is a disabled person with no smartphone or internet access, expected to apply and produce a ration card in order to get some atta, dal, chawal?

Guidelines have been issued by both central and state authorities for relaxations in the case of disabled population, but the implementation is as usual shoddy given the utter lack of understanding and empathy.

I’m hoping the media can draw attention to such issues being faced by the disabled. Not with the objective of dissing the authorities or the cops or the healthcare workers. But with an intent to help them understand closely what needs to be amended and endorsed.

A list of national and state helplines has been circulated by the government but most numbers are often engaged. Now this is expected because of the fear among people and a lack of resources to handle a problem of such magnitude. We need to think of alternatives. NGOs are putting out their numbers (some even sharing their personal mobiles) as a response mechanism for various communities. If the media widely circulates these resources, a larger population could benefit.

Community efforts need to be backed up by state and national media so we can all join hands in lessening the chaos. These unusual times call for extraordinary efforts from each one of us, whether we are a part of the government, healthcare industry, media, social welfare system or civil society.