We live in a false timeOur government is not only dysfunctional by design but also increasingly deceptive.
Fear is a two-way street. We live in a time when citizens are nervously gauging the capacity of the public health system with fears about its ability to forge a fight against Covid-19. At the same time, the public health system may be cautiously feeling the pulse of the federal democratic republic, fearful about its capability to decide the fate of the fight. The dictionary defines false as not according to the truth or fact, incorrect, or made to imitate something in order to deceive.
The time we live in is false because a combination of false positives and false negatives resulting from an inadequate, and at times faulty, testing procedure largely contributes to the official Covid-19 stats—total infections 16 and total deaths zero. The false number gives us a false sense of security and safety, resulting in misinformed complacency within society and inaccurate claims by the state. We live in a false time because our government is not only dysfunctional by design but also increasingly deceptive—a more callous imitation of itself.
Viruses mutate. They always do. What makes the mutation lethal, however, may depend on human action—our consumption habits and the lifestyle choices we have embraced in the name of progress and modernity under the aegis of global capitalism. Corruption in the middle of a global pandemic is also what makes the mutation lethal. Over two weeks ago, the government involved a questionable private entity with no experience of medical procurement to procure Covid-19 kits and equipment from China, which were later revealed to not meet the World Health Organisation—recommended standard, and as such, unusable.
Widespread news reports continue to allege that the government exploited public panic and uncertainty surrounding the lockdown to embezzle large amounts of funds. If true, the nexus and mentality at work in this latest episode of crony capitalism may be like many others preceding it. In that, the intent may not be murderous. The effects, however, will be. The corruption would be unprecedented in its cruel display of inhumanity and incompetence, the imprints of which will be marked on the bodies of Covid-19 patients as they suffer and die. As such, the high-level Covid-19 committee led by the government has blood on its hands. Tracing the blood money may lead one to come face-to-face with the rarefied gates of the ailing Baluwatar.
The Nepali state is currently Janus-faced; a double-headed creature. In addition to displaying a Trump and Modi-like charade of cognitive dissonance, the centre is also beginning to show symptoms of authoritarianism. Following the nationally televised spectacle filled with boredom, the tone and tenor of which was completely out of sync with the urgency that the present time demands, the prime minister, instead, demanded of the citizens ‘to choose between life and individual freedom’. The self-proclaimed leader of the communists refuses to realise that the choice is fictional because in reality, the two are inseparable. One needs individual freedom including freedom of speech to accord voice and agency to one’s precarity that may determine whether one lives or dies. Individual freedom is inextricably intertwined with the right to protect biological life.
Contrary to the centre, it is at the local level that preparations appear to be more promising—if anecdotes over phone and news reports are to be believed. From Meyanglung to Laljhadi, teams of local youths and elected officials are working to devise their own systems of ‘contact tracing’ after setting up isolation and quarantine zones in local schools, hotels and community halls. These efforts may lack medically and scientifically. And they definitely will not prevent Covid-19 mortality. However, in the continued absence of adequate medical equipment, healthcare workers and health infrastructure, these collective and responsible acts of proactive self-organising is a form of democracy in action at the local level. On the one hand, it may be one of our home-grown methods in the attempt to pre-emptively tame the pandemic. On the other, it may reveal to Prime Minister Oli that the ‘choice’ he handed out to the citizens—‘between life and individual freedom’—is false, which gives the lie to the authoritarian impulses such a decree carries.
The pandemic is a pause
Scientists say that it may be anywhere between 18 to 36 months before the Covid-19 vaccines currently under clinical trial become available in the market. In the prolonged absence of adequate equipment and competent treatment measures, the virus will continue to find one host after another as it switches play from one human body to another, one locality to another. It will be long before the chain breaks, the curve flattens and the virus is obliterated. The pandemic is an interruption and a disruption. It is a pause that will last long after the Nepali state has declared its demise and demanded of us to resume play. We should not, however, set to play for it will be a false call from the state, like it is now.
For as long as the pause lasts, there is no alternative for us other than to fundamentally change our social behaviour—including practising social distancing—until there is a scientific cure affordable to the 'developing world’; to continue to be kind to each other and informally share our excess—of food and income—with those who have no access; to continue mobilising networks and resources in support of health workers as well as locally-designed public health actions led by youths and locally elected representatives; and to continue exposing the central government for its falsities and frailties.
After the pause ends, normal play will automatically resume. In this play, global capitalism, alongside its localised renditions, will resume its song and dance to lull the society back into slumber. For a society that for decades has wilfully refused to wake up from the slumber despite calls, until the crown-shaped 4.5 nano-gram guillotine started looming, the pandemic was never meant to be a portal. Science will one day flatten the curve of infection. Flattening the curve of inequality, however, will be a permanent struggle. In this permanent struggle, the pandemic is a pause, not a portal.
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