Between Compassion and Justice: Examining Unfulfilled Obligations

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We are facing unprecedented human distress during the time of coronavirus pandemic. We are facing tough times and most of it is directly faced by the working class of our country.  The 2011 census indicates that India has 5.6 interstate migrants. The actual number must be much higher and might have increased rapidly post 2011. Some estimates say that the internal migrants add up to 40 million today.  The lockdown imposed by the Modi Government to fight coronavirus has hit them most drastically. But we can see little or no compassion from the Government.  We too seem to have become numb to the humanitarian crisis. We are measuring the exodus of the millions of workers on the canverse that calculates business losses that think everything through the prism of capital and forgets their plight at this hour of darkness.  While everyone is suffering a lost present and the future, the working class is facing the crisis by walking their way towards a resourceful past that is represented by their village and their homes.  The home is their safety valve to live with this moment of crisis.  

As a working-class, they have been always victims of dehumanisations of several kinds. Unfortunately, the anesthetization of our sensitivity has reached high decimals and we are unable to be moved by their plight.  The godi media also insulates and deflects us from the rising crisis of the working class.  We are into something that may be called thought violence that hides real issues from us while we are riding the intoxication of nationalism that is narcissistic and is only producing Narcissus Indicus.  Led by the aura of the intoxicating nationalism, we have come to think that war (violence/ riots /killing) is peace. This is why we have been silent bystanders to the heartless and monstrous riots and mob lynching for quite some time. We   seem to have collectively lost our moral compass and are not even aware of our downfall from grace.   We have quickly attuned  ourselves   to the policing of our thought and memory  by the Right-wing forces  and are have narrowed  our horizon of thought  that  make us think  that we become more national by tracking the thought-criminals/ dissenting  anti-nationals  Maybe  it is because of this  that Modi Government can go scot-free without suffering the political costs of  economic failures  as well as incompetent handling of the corono-crisis  as well the misery inflicted on the working class in our country. 

The doublethink introduced by George Orwell in his novel, 1984, may assist us to face our own depraved condition.   We seem to be living in a society that his novel portrays.  Our acceptance of war as peace is clear in the description of our crisis as a battle or war on coronavirus.  This doublethink that links the coronaviral infection and war has blinded us to the collateral damage that our dealings with the virus inflict on the innocent people.   Orwell had already manifested that giving up one’s rights in the name of freedom was doublethink.  It thinks that relinquishing ones right one becomes free.  Maybe a look back into our experience can illumine us to the fact that what is haloed as cultural nationalism is luring us to accept several unfreedoms  as well as constrictions of thought.  Such narrowing of our freedoms and thinking certainly cannot make us  really self-reliant/ Atmanirbahar India. 

We have become silent to the heartless labour reforms introduced by Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Madya Pradesh governments even when like other states these states are also reeling under the impact of coronavirus.    What is  more surprising is that the Congress-ruled states like Rajasthan and Punjab also modified their labour laws.  But this does not disturb us even as we seem to be descending into a kind of slavery of the colonial plantation era.  The hire and fire policy, extension of work hours from eight to twelve hours, weakening of legal safeguards of the workers are pushing us hard into the dark ages of slavery. The barbarism of twelve hours of work   that is thought to build the nation by breaking the bodies of the working class may remain invisible because  we are used to the nationalism that can build the nation on the dead bodies of those groups and communities that are deemed as  anti-national. 

 This is why we are not asking for justice but are happy demanding compassion for the working classes at this time of great human distress.  Maybe this demand for compassion reveals something fundamental about us.  Maybe we always thought that the working classes of our country do not need justice.  But seeing the painful visuals of the poor people helplessly walking back to their homes has struck a chord into our hearts.   It is this heart bleeding humanitarian crisis that is moving us to a plea of compassion to them.  It is this unbearable excess that we face today needs our compassion. The working class truly need our compassion.  But that is not all that they need. What they also truly need is justice. Actually they do not need our charity what they need is justice.   Compassion and care is needed   the most at this hour of human distress but it cannot produce solidarity.  Solidarity is built in the quest for justice.  Compassion can feed into our feeling of being above those that we care about.  It is when we seek justice for the other that we truly feel that they are equal to us.   

 The Government seems to hide its failure in its responsibility to deliver justice to the working class by appealing for our compassion.    We have to be compassionate and do everything to assist our brethren at this hour of darkness but we cannot stop with compassionate charity. We have to let our compassion grow into solidarity by demanding justice to the working class of our country.   Compassion, care and charity are the immediate moral responses that we need to give to this disaster staying aware that compassion can also keep our distance and power intact.  It can keep the power equations intact and the unjust society can continue.  This is why it is easy to be merciful because it allows us to still keep the comfort of our distance and power over the working class.  Hence, we must realise that even the term migrant is alienating and already marking a distance between us and our fellow Indians.  We need a different word to address the working classes of our country.  If we cannot feel any commonality with them, we will only feel compassion and fail to build solidarity that demands justice to our very own Indians.  Maybe this is the real corona moment of our country.  It is time that we respond to the obligation that we have always failed to address.  The poor of our country who breaks his/ her body does not just need our mercy. They need justice.  It has been long denied. The coronavirus is turning the clock for them. Are we ready to join their battle for justice? 

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao