Why do many Indians usually come late

Pain and Comfort in Times of the Pandemic - Reflections by an Indian Jesuit

Many, very different feelings arise in me when I think back to the time that has passed since the first Indian case of COVID-19 was officially confirmed on January 30, 2020. The patient was a student at Wuhan University in China on home leave in Thrissur, in the southern Indian state of Kerala. The fear, suffering and agony that people have endured awaken compassion and solidarity with them in me. The warmth and humanity they showed when their neighbors and companions were in need are consolation and joy for me. Indecision and indifference, heartlessness and rudeness on the part of political actors and law enforcement agencies arouse anger and revulsion. If, on the other hand, people committed to human rights and leaders of civil society movements stand up for the people who have been hardest hit by the corona pandemic, a sense of justice and hope will prevail.

Painful moments

There is, for example, the way in which the pandemic is spreading: if you graph the course, you get a steadily increasing curve. Fear and worry are omnipresent in my phone calls with family and friends - near and far. Both can also be seen in Whatsapp-Messages from colleagues and employees who work directly with the people in the villages and towns. I can't help but be deeply affected by their fear of infection or the stigma that follows infection. Then there are the wage and contract workers in our environment, sometimes even in our own facilities. The jobs run through their fingers like water and there is still sorrow in their eyes. Or the migrant workers, most of whom are indebted and enslaved: the images of how they have traveled long distances with their families and children, with or without shoes, to be with loved ones in difficult times, have become in burned into my memory. I can't forget how people literally like cattle on trucks and Vans have been loaded.

Comforting moments

As the experience and information began to pour in, the impact of the pandemic on the ordinary population became a matter of conscience for me. Leading and comforting people, remembering them and praying for them is one thing. But that wasn't enough, more had to happen, I had to do more. What a great consolation it was to hear how migrant travelers not only shared their suffering with each other, but also food they had taken with them or received from good-hearted people on their way.

There were many moving moments of solidarity: Although Muslims from large parts of the Indian population responded with disgust and hatred, a Muslim fellow citizen gave the money he had saved up for the marriage of his daughter, regardless of religious background, in order to provide relief for this population in their distress. A young widow, who after the death of her husband had to support her family and children alone and against social structures, willingly parted with her savings to support the poorest of the poor. A human rights activist raised funds from friends and benefactors. A beggar donated all of his income to the Madurai administration so that the district authorities could use this money to help those affected.

All those moments, when so many of the civilian population sacrificed their belongings to support the poor and needy, made a big impression on me. They are living proof of the charity that resides in the human heart.

But what do we Jesuits of the Institute of Development Education, Action and Studies done? In some ways, we felt that people needed "tangible" help. For example, at the request of the government, we decided to provide rooms for COVID-19 patients quickly and as required. That was certainly the right step.

We have also succeeded in releasing 19 migrant workers from northern India who were employed in Madurai and the surrounding area from their dependent employment, taking them in for more than two months and securing their wages. It was an unforgettable experience. In addition, we created educational videos, carried out lobbying work and initiated legal proceedings - that too gives me cause for joy. Even when our own resources were scarce, our volunteers were able to support over 2,000 families in need with food and protective equipment. But of course all of this is not enough. In view of the worsening situation in the corona pandemic, further support is necessary.

Sorrowful moments

However, life does not only have its sunny side, but also its dark side. What bothers me most in the current situation, or, better said, makes me very angry, is the cold feeling and heartlessness of the government apparatus. The response to the crisis triggered by the coronavirus was far too late. The Lockdownwho followed was rash. The number of aid packages that are being distributed is far too few. The police carry out violent operations, completely unjustified. The media are prohibited from reporting on the situation. The government apparatus rules like a fascist regime and has no interest in democratic procedures. The police attack people without scruples.

One tries to draw the attention of the population to supposedly religious or ethnic issues and conflicts instead of worrying about the needs and concerns of the citizens. Huge sums of rupees are being spent on the parliament building. Human rights activists are being silenced. In short, the behavior of the political regime is disgusting, to say the least. There is a real danger that the rulers of India will exploit the current situation for their own purposes and try to implement their plan Hindu nation to realize. The signs of this are already palpable for everyone. What was initially declared as a health problem is now being exploited by those in power as a political godsend!

A glimmer of hope

All is not lost, however. The tireless efforts of human rights defenders, popular movements and opposition parties gave and continue to give reason for hope. They are storming the government's behavior. It is true that during the Lockdowns there was no longer any room for democracy. However, this has not prevented the aforementioned forces of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition from taking action. In digital meetings as well as in statements and demands about the situation, they made the political powers aware of their moral misconduct and political omissions, as well as of their constitutional obligations.

Boring questions

The corona pandemic allowed me to discover the wealth of humanity and solidarity that lies dormant in the most ordinary people. At the same time, the virus exposed many grievances in society: the fragility of the life of the poor, increasing social division, the incredible crisis of migrant workers and the aggressive state terror. Boring questions torment me: Am I doing enough in my work area? Have we chosen the right perspective and strategy for our pastoral ministry? Shouldn't we, in all our endeavors, place the greatest emphasis on human rights, democratic ethos and constitutional principles? Shouldn't we rethink our mission priorities and strategies for our Madurai Province? Shouldn't we use our human resources and resources to help the poorest of the poor? Are we networked enough with worldly organs? What can we do to ensure that our educational work gives people more thought and supports them in forming their own opinion? Shouldn't our social engagement in the future primarily consist of developing a socio-political lobbying strategy?

The corona virus - whether man-made or natural - will be with us for some time to come. The virus is already wreaking havoc on millions of people around the world. This will not change in India in the coming months either. The virus has made us realize many things and will continue to do so in the future. It has brought before us many of our false assumptions and fallacies. The virus also raises many questions that we need to think about. I believe the time is now for divinely inspired prophets to be on the front lines to address these issues and to bring the light of justice and the blossom of hope into the world.

About the author: Aloysius Irudayam, S.J., is a religious provincial of the Jesuit Madurai Province and director of the Institute of Development Education, Action and Studies (IDEAS) in Madurai, India.

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