[avatar user=”Pradip Phanjoubam” size=”thumbnail” link=”file”]PRADIP PHANJOUBAM[/avatar]
The dreaded Coronavirus is here. An unfortunate girl returning home from her studies in London had the virus. She is now in the JNIMS Hospital isolation ward fighting the disease and we wish her speedy recovery. We also wish those who may have been in her proximity after she contracted the virus, and when her medical condition was still not known to others as well as to herself, did not contract the virus from her. She was returning from one of the explosion points of the epidemic – London – and this should have alerted the authorities at the many airports she passed through to reach Imphal, especially the Delhi airport which was her entry point to the country, and put her through mandatory quarantine to see if symptoms showed up during it. But what has happened is now history and cannot be retracted. Let it also be remembered that in a way, what just happened was only to be expected sometime or the other. If it was not her, it probably would have been somebody else sooner than later. Let us also be prepared that there will be more like her returning home, and some may come back with the illness in its latent stage. We have so many of our children and young people studying or working outside the state, and they would have to return home sometime or the other. Especially in times of crisis like the one we are witnessing now, it is only natural for them to want all the more to be home with their loved ones, and for their loved ones to want them to be home.
This predicament incidentally is shared by many other states, including in Kerala, which has a large number of expats abroad as well as within the country. The difference is, the most progressive of these places take this as a challenge to be met, not avoided. This is not a question of being needlessly liberal as some sick and selfish minds are led to think, but of not disowning and betraying our own. The sick girl is not a British, American or Chinese tourist who we can refuse entry, but a girl who has a home and parents here. If a child of ours is ill, we have to take care of her, but since this is a dangerous communicable disease, we have to do it with care so that the virus does not spread to us or others. We cannot simply disown her like they once did to lepers when there were no cures for the disease. Moreover, we now know fairly well how the disease spreads, how its spread can be controlled and how its dangers can be minimised if prescribed protocols are followed. Did the girl or her parents breach any of these prescribed protocols? Rumour mongers with lynch mob mentality, so evident on the free for all social media, were all too eager to condemn them for allegedly doing so, but hard evidences now emerging are pointing elsewhere. If there were lacunas, as for instance in not having proper quarantine facilities ready and a definite quarantine protocol introduced in Imphal, the faults are systemic. Here too, we also saw how some people were even ready to protest a government move to convert some schools into quarantine facilities till the crisis lasted.
Witnessing the social media mob, it is difficult not to ask if Manipur has not lost its sanity and humanity yet. Any humane society would not have found it difficult to understand how worried and anxious many parents would be even now if their children happen to be stranded outside the state on account of the complete lockdown of domestic air and road transport. They would be additionally worried now amidst reports of people from the Northeast being discriminated openly elsewhere in India, taunting them and even spiting on them contemptuously as Chinese and Coronavirus in the wake of a new wave of xenophobic racism in India against Chinese. Who can even say for certain if these taunts would not turn to violent assaults. Let there be no doubt about it that as and when the lockdown is relaxed, there will be fresh waves of Manipur’s expats – students and young job migrants – rushing back to their parents and homes. Let our society sober down, compose itself and make them feel welcome. Let them go through all the epidemic control protocols. Let them also cooperate and do all that is asked of them willingly. If they come from areas prone to the disease, let them be quarantined for the prescribed period. If some of them do fall ill, let them be cared for. In fact, the state government could have also taken the initiative to facilitate their return, just as India arranged special Air India flights to bring back Indians from China when the epidemic first broke out there. Like the sick girl in the hospital now, they too are our own and we cannot simply banish them as so many pretentious leaders of social media mobs would want it to be. This is a pandemic we are faced with, requiring the entire world, those who are unfortunate to contract it, and those who have been spared by it this time, to battle together to overcome. The disease is dangerous but not invincible. Let us be very careful in dealing with it, but let us also not be afraid.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author