Before you start reading it, know that we are living in the middle of a global pandemic, and beds are no longer full of roses. Most of the active social media users or commentators have never faced a crisis in their life and that includes me. Freedom struggle, plague, recession, martyrdom, let’s face it, we have not been a part of anything apart from boring stability. Ask yourself, were you there near Silchar Railway Station when bullets pierced through humanity? Were you there picking up dead bodies of school-goers who were shot dead because they wanted the right to speak their mother-tongue? Forget global or national issues, we do not have a single contribution in any local struggle either. This backdrop explains why a country with 65 per cent of its population below 65 years is panicking to not end.
Take the bus from Rajasthan as an example. It drove all the way from Ajmer with 42 residents of Cachar district and one from Sonitpur. How on earth can someone question the intention of anyone – the driver who drove the bus, the passengers who travelled back, and the administration which allowed the bus to enter, where is the mistake that we all went ballistic?
These are people who legitimately went to a place of worship using the government of India authorised mode of transportation and got stranded due to the sudden lockdown. After surviving more than a month in stranded condition, they returned home, it is obvious they would and they should. As common people, it is our responsibility to not start this anti-traveller racism. The country has already been broken up into fragments by many narrow domestic walls, we don’t need one more classification – the travellers. The hatred for inbound residents in Barak Valley has crossed the height Borail Mountains and it has now started to drop at a great force.
The bus from Ajmer gave us a sense of the mass and acceleration of the hatred, the height from which it’s dropping upon us. All district administrations in Assam was handed over a Standard Operating Procedure with regards to inward passengers from outside Northeast which was issued by the state government. The local administrations are supposed to follow the SoP, with a limited scope of making any exceptions. An officer in the administration informed, “Clause 7.1 of the SoP states, all inbound residents must be screened by the thermal scanner, if the temperature is normal and the resident is asymptomatic, he/she should be allowed to go to their home on conditions that they will remain indoors for 14 days,” the fancy term – home-quarantine.
Following the SoP, when the bus reached ISBT Silchar in the wee hours, officials from the district administration went to receive it and screened all the passengers. Another bus was arranged to drop inbound passengers at their doorsteps. Incidentally, all the passengers screened normal, however, the medical officer on duty, Dr Sayantan Das diagnosed some issues in one passenger and he was asked to stay back despite the screening being normal. That passenger happened to be the resident of Sonitpur District who was the first one from the bus to test COVID19 positive.
Imagine, the officials blindly following the SoP and letting everyone go untested as per the protocols. Cachar district administration managed to spot something which got missed in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Srirampore – Assam-Bengal border through which they were allowed to enter the state. Immediately after the person tested positive, the administration traced back all the passengers and their primary contact and placed them under quarantine in government facilities. Now, ask yourself this question, was your outrage against the district administration logical, and you include the MLA, former MP and many other intellectuals of the valley.
Let’s face it, more than 24,000 residents of Cachar have put up a request to return home, there are many illiterates who do not know how to put up requests but are probably walking back already. Asking the administration to place everyone under facility-quarantine, provide food and restrict containment is not only impractical but also inhumane. Ask yourself, if it is a logistically practical and economically viable option, and then think about your recent Facebook posts.
Similar panic among people was noticed in Karimganj and the deputy commissioner immediately reacted and announced the closure of Churaibari interstate border disconnecting transportation. This shows that local administrations are responding or rather reacting to the general public’s outrage even if they are baseless. Why baseless? because it turned out that the truck driver from Karimganj was not the one who tested positive in Agartala.
If roads got blocked in Karimganj, in Cachar, heads rolled. Deputy Commissioner, Barnali Sharma got transferred a day after health minister Himanata Biswa Sarma said, “The bus from Rajasthan entered Cachar without permission.” Nowhere it was mentioned that DC Sharma got transferred due to the recent outrage against her, however, one can read between lines… Democracy needs informed electorates, as voters we must criticize, but not those who are just doing their duties, not those who they have not voted to elect as representative. If criticism is the engine that drives a democracy then logic is certainly the oil that fuels progress. Without logic, criticism is a rusty, bulky piece of iron just occupying space and driving absolutely nothing.
The question that remained un-raised is how did the bus travel all the way deep into Cachar without the permission of the State Government, the question that remained unraised is, why did the health minister find it necessary to mention that the bus entered without the permission even if it has, the question that remained unraised is, why no one is being held responsible if the bus entered Assam without permission. What happened to 50 per cent occupancy norms as the bus entered with 46 onboard and why no one cared to check in Srirampur?
Lately, in Barak Valley, all criticism seems to be targeted towards the district administration, irrespective of who the deputy commissioner is. Why is that? Are we ashamed of criticising the people we voted or have we got so involved in the processes of establishing a superiority that we fear questioning would make it look inferior, demean the majority?
Meanwhile, in the two phases of lockdown, going by the officially available national data, 34,000 children will have died of pneumonia and diarrhoea as India loses 600 per day, 3,31,000 of heart diseases at a rate of 5,800 per day, 94,000 will have succumbed to indoor pollution (chulha) at 1650 per day, 1,54,000 lives will have been claimed by diabetes at 2,700 per day, 80,000 to cancer at 1,400 per day, 34,000 to TB at 600 per day and 23,000 to suicides at the rate of 400 a day. Before you lose your head and say we are doomed because of 10 COVID19 patients in an enclosed environment like a bus, read up a bit, ask around how many patients in Silchar died due to brain stroke or cardiac arrest or due to unavailability of basic medical help.
Barak Valley as Assam and the rest of the country and the world will now have to learn to live with Coronavirus around. This is not going anywhere at least for the next few months. More buses will enter as they should, more trucks will deliver essentials as they must, more aircraft will ship PPE kits as they are supposed to and in the process, if someone tests COVID19 positive, there is no reason for us, the general public, the electorate to lose our heads. And for the volunteers of lockdown who are gunning for an extension, the government is running out of money, private companies are laying off employees, the aviation sector is bleeding, tourism is already doomed, the sun has set on the entertainment industry, the multiplexes and malls are vacant, what you think is leisure is actually the breadwinner for millions of people in this country. Remember it is just a moratorium and no one is waiving off your EMIs, you will still have bills to pay and ailment to cure and future to secure.
You aren’t only fighting COVID but also living life. You are mortal by birth but morbid by choice.