The world has been going through an unprecedented topsy-turvy situation because of an invisible virus named Covid-19. The all-engulfing pandemic is undoubtedly running havoc on our lives now. The virus has suddenly halted the whole world, which was otherwise moving super-fast.
From April 2020, almost one-third of the global population has been experiencing various sorts of restrictions on their movements. To reduce the excessive transmission of the virus, borders of most countries have been closed for foreigners. Lockdowns and social distancing have been chosen by states as strategies to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. The scale of these measures is unprecedented.
Governments across the world have declared and gone into total lockdowns or curfews in some cases, but the situation in Bangladesh is really at a problematic stage. Being one of the most densely populated countries, if not checked, the pandemic may cause devastation, the likes of which has not been encountered anywhere else yet. Strangely enough, amidst this chaos, a group of people are still hopeful that this cannot last forever and something good is sure to come up.
For me, however, that is a distant possibility. More prominently, I foresee scarcity of jobs, lack of provisions, budget cuts and trauma from various wounds looming in the future. Thinking rationally, the question that arises then is: How hopeful can we be when deep down we know there is nothing bright and hopeful awaiting us in the coming months?
According to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), "Disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or society, involving widespread human, material, economic and environmental losses or impacts which exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope with using its resources."
The Disaster Risk Management cycle consists of preparedness, response, rehabilitation and recovery and last but not the least, prevention and mitigation.
When it comes to Covid-19, the disaster is not only the virus and its health implications, but also the catastrophic effect on both economic and social conditions of the world. The already visible effects make us question if we will ever be able to return to "normal"? Do we even want to return to that "normal"? And, what will be the "new normal"?
Perhaps, this is our golden opportunity to revisit some of our existing "normal" activities and take forward some parts of it into the "future normal". This is also an opportunity to cleanse our hearts, minds, lives and societies.
However, this unprecedented situation has shed light on some of the fractures and tacit fissures of our so-called modern urban life and the explicit and implicit mechanisms through which it goes on functioning. It is well known, at least in academia, that the word "society" roughly connotes a very much complex and interconnected matrix of social institutions along with their functions.
If this is granted, in countries like Bangladesh, significant social institutions like family, education, religion, the economy, the state etc. are all flustering evidently in response to this shape-shifting lethal virus.
Moreover, in developing countries like Bangladesh, the "lockdown" has been a merciless eye-opener to the shocking as well as painful preexisting social class division in terms of economic conditions and the extent to which it can mercilessly generate discrimination among citizens of the same country.
For the last few months, we all have been acquainted with some very new words like social distancing, self-isolation, institutional quarantine etc. Interestingly, among all these new and somehow grave sounding words, one very marginal and kind of "banal" word is resurfacing now and then on digital media as well as in our occasional chit chats: that word is "labour".
When is the last time that we heard of "labour" attracting the headlines and the attention of the elite commentaries on our pages and screens? Somehow it was taken for granted that 21st-century capitalism, with its entire production machine, can work without labour, or labourers could be pushed to the margins of the whole system, made invisible. This word, which almost seemed to recede forever from our "cultivated" minds and the front pages or prime news of most of the mainstream media, somehow has gotten its attention back.
From the deepest slumber of their almost marginal (non)existence, now labourers are receiving live slots on television channels very often.
Factually, these discriminations in terms of economic capability reveal some dark fissures prevailing in our social fabric. While the rich and the upper-middle class are keeping themselves busy with "working from home'', webinars, online classes, Netflix and movies, the real difficulties are left to be suffered by the people of lower economic class.
People who belong to the margin of society have been the real victim of such a situation. They are fighting against hunger every day. Some suicide cases (because of the frustration of not being able to manage foods for family) have been reported in the national newspapers too. "Stay Home" they were told without being empathetic to the fact that many of them do not have any actual roof over their heads. They were repeatedly being told to "Stay Safe", but how can one remain safe without access to foods?
In contrast, the relatively privileged classes of the society have been at best 'bored' and 'frustrated' because of the impossibility of their day to day exercise and travel or managing children at home and the utter boredom therein prevails.
Now we are badly in need of serious reflections and a lot of sustained efforts to mitigate the effects of this pandemic for the poor and marginalised. We also need to enhance the ability of our polity and also civil society to rise above all discriminations based on caste, creed, religion, language and class divisions to reach out to those who are really in need of help.
The pandemic has awakened us to a "new renaissance". Hence, there are possibilities that we may take this chance to go back to nature with a view to finding new avenues of living a more connected, more humane, more meaningful and more authentic life. We must remember that the worst is yet to come and prevention is always better than the cure.
Md Rakibul Alam is a lecturer at the Department of English in Bangladesh Army University of Engineering & Technology (BAUET) He can be reached at: [email protected].