Wednesday 1st, December 2021
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May was the cruellest month-MATHEW C NINAN

Published On : 06 Jun 2021

Nobel laureate T S Eliot begins his masterpiece ‘The Waste Land’ with the following lines.

April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land,
Mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.

If that April was the cruellest month because of the spiritual death of the waste-landers, exactly a hundred years later, this May was the cruellest month for us on account of the physical death of our countrymen in their hundreds everyday of the month, strangled by the icy hands of Covid-19.

Premonitions of what was going to come in May were visible months ahead. But the authorities took them lightly and we are now paying a heavy price for it. We lost our countrymen in their hundreds and thousands. Every day we are buffeted by the shocking news of someone’s death, a relative or a friend. Death has become a chilling reality hovering all around us today.

Vernacular newspapers have allotted more space for their obituary pages. They report deaths with pictures and details of the departed. No doubt this is a great service. However, some of them devote more space for obituary insertions on payment basis. It is an unexpected windfall for them at this time when their circulation hit a new low. Someone’s loss is someone else’s gain.

Coming events cast their shadows before, so goes the adage. The USA and most of Europe were going through a bad phase from January to March. We in India did not have many cases, and so our leaders went on a mental holiday, as it were. They proclaimed that we are free of Corona and we can help others as ‘the vaccine factory of the world’. It is reported that the govt despatched some 63 million doses of vaccine to different countries. Surely, it is no small thing to become the saviour of the world and raise India’s stature among the comity of nations.

While patting on our own backs, we ignored the fact that Corona has the habit of repeating its visitations after a lull. We did not implement an effective vaccine strategy, by not even ordering enough vaccines from India or abroad. We even cold-shouldered some foreign vaccine manufacturers that approached us. Now we are knocking at their doors. Nemesis follows hubris, because that’s nature’s law.

April gave clear indications that the worst was to follow. That’s exactly what happened in May. Daily cases of Corona started reaching an all-time high and death tally touched a few thousands every day, countrywide. Panic was palpable everywhere. Those who proclaimed that Corona has had its ‘endgame in India’ quietly swallowed their words and disappeared.

May witnessed a catastrophe that was not entirely inevitable. All cautions were thrown to the wind, and no effective action was taken to vaccinate the adult population which required at least 200 crore doses whereas we ordered a measly 31 crores. Only 3.1% have been fully vaccinated by end of May. Is this not a recipe for disaster? No doubt, there has been criminal negligence, to say the least.

The central government wants to make the State Governments bear the cost of vaccination, and manage its procurement. Obviously, the centre does not want to invest money on vaccination. In terms of priority, the prestigious Central Vista is way above the lives of citizens.

Onslaught on Social Media

The month of May dealt another mighty blow to the common man. The government has discovered that the mainstream media is not the only channel of communication. The citizens communicate through the social media as well. That’s cold comfort for them, and so they conjured up a plan to stop the dissemination of news that is not favourable to it. A new amendment to the IT Act is proposed to rein in the social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and WhatsApp. The government wants to bring in strict norms to control these platforms.

The ostensible reason is that the govt has a duty to protect its citizens from mischief happening in social media, especially child pornography. They need to be monitored and dealt with strictly. For this, the originator of every message should be identified when needed. There is no question about this imperative. But then that should be addressed in a more reasonable manner than a drastic measure such as the one contemplated.

The suspected unspoken motive is that the govt wants to regulate the social media, clip their wings and make them subservient to the government like they have done with most of the media houses – both print and visual. Most citizens have been reading between the lines and believe that it’s an attempt to restrain the citizens’ freedom of speech. They see it in the context of ‘sedition’ charges levelled against some journalists. Vinod Dua is the latest example.

If this fear comes true, May would indeed be the cruellest month. The end-to-end encryption and privacy assured by the social media will soon be a thing of the past. Freedom of speech will be subject to censorship. Dissent will be quelled in one fell swoop.

Let’s hope nothing will happen that will stifle our much cherished freedom, the lifeblood and quintessence of democracy.

The Waste Land ends with the words Shantih, shantih, shantih (Peace, peace, peace that transcends all understanding). We need that peace today more than ever before.

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