Being Real at the Time of Coronavirus – II

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We are facing a killerati in coronavirus. We also have another cultural virus that has been afflicting us for centuries. It is the virus of caste. It has mutated over time and today it has become what we call Hindutva. Both these viruses are lethal and have killer instincts. We may regard them as two sides of the same coin. Some among us may ask,’ where is the common space between the two pathogens?’ Precisely because they are two sides of the same coin, they can never meet.

There is no common language and no shared ground between the two. One is biological and the other is social both are two sides of the same historical moment that we are passing through. There is no space to find the middle ground between the two. They are two sides of the same coin. They are on the same mission. This is why we could see that the far rightwing in India was quick to use the coin to further split and harm our society. They could see communalism glued to the pandemic of coronavirus. They are indeed the two sides of the same coin.

One might index these two sides that we have named here also as operative in the manner the officials who had all the protective gear against the infection acted with those people who were quarantined by throwing food and water from a distance in Agra. Maybe the resistance to the operation to bring back the seafarers in Goa also manifests as the two sides of the same coin. Maybe fear of the pandemic and the social distance as a measure to keep oneself away from it is also setting us on the side of the same coin.

This is why being real at this time of great human distress is vital to make our response emancipative to everyone. We have to understand that because the biological virus and social virus are two sides on the same coin, they can operate together. We need to arrive from determinate reflection to reflective determination that will enable us to handle ourselves as well as others in a humane way. We need to find ways to address the gap between humanity and its own inhumane excess.

In quantum physics, we have an example of two sides of the same coin that we are confronted with today. The wave and particle duality are two sides of the same reality. They cannot meet. We cannot know both at the same time but we are aware of a gap between them. This kind of spotting of the gap between biological and social virus is needed to free ourselves of our inhuman excesses. We urgently need to spot several gaps like the gap between Hindutva and Hinduism, nationalism, and patriotism etc.

All of them blind us into thinking that they are two sides of the same coin and we are unable to spot the gap. Spotting of the gap can assist us in what we see as two sides of the same coin are two different sides but they operate as the same sides of the same coin. This realisation is important to discern how communalism, as well as coronavirus, operates on the same side even as we think/ read right now.

Zizek names the gap that we are trying to spot as a parallax gap. But this gap cannot be closed. It is because of this very gap that introduces a structural imbalance that produces the two sides of the coin that work as though they are on the same side of the coin. Because there is a gap between Hindutva and Hinduism or nationalism and patriotism, we find that they can be made to work on the same side. Hindutva or nationalism is nothing but struggles to bridge the gap. Hindutva wishes to purify what it perceives as gaped Hinduism or gaped Nation.

The biological virus seems to have become another weapon to restore the gaped Hinduism and Nation. This is why we have to come to understand Hindutva is primarily against Hinduism and the nation that it views as gaped. We may have to come to the hard truth that will reveal to us the anti-nationalism of Hindutva. The same is true of the biological virus and the social virus that is affecting us today. It is the very gap between the two that is making them work as though they are the same sides of the same coin.

The struggle to bridge the gap reminds me of Descartes. Descartes through the medium of his doubt is going through the stormy sea only to find an island that he could call his home of rest. The restless cogito finds a home of rest only after the turmoil of doubt. Thus, Descartes is also trying to bridge the gap between the thinking ego and being ego. We may say they are two sides of the same coin and they work like they are the same sides of the same coin. The issue of a return to a home that we find in Descartes can be spotted in Hegel’s dialectical logic. But the difference is the struggle continues as we do not have a lasting home on this side of the grave. We may also find the same return in Heidegger who clearly sees his thought as a mode of homecoming.

The issue of homecoming is central to Hindutva and the narrow nationalism that we find at play in our country. This is why being a communal virus, it can join forces with the biological virus and put it to work out its project of bridging the gap between Hinduism and the Nation. We cannot claim that we are free from such a virus. There is a gap between the Hindutva virus and the social virus that might afflict us when we act out of fear and indulge in our own inhuman excesses. We have maintained this gap between the biological and the social virus in this reflection to say that we can also reproduce Hindutva like unfreedom that we all do not like in our own way.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao