We need social solidarity, not social distancing – analysis
Leadership plays a crucial role in times of crisis. Facing unprecedented challenges, such as coronavirus disease (Covid-19), proper messaging is essential to galvanize people. In the Indian context, in addition to the region, language and faith, social diversity also plays an important role. Increasing awareness of social diversity is a significant step in dealing with exclusion and incidents of birth discrimination. Therefore, any strategy to contain a crisis of this proportion must be inclusive.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi used “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” in Mann Ki Baat, a debate began in India. In a deeply hierarchical society with traditional prejudices, social exclusion can be masked as “social distancing”. This prompted the intellectual leaders of subordinate communities across the country to question the term “social distancing.”
Not only in India, but voices from around the world challenged the use of the term. Socially marginalized and racially segregated people, who unfortunately are at the bottom of the pyramid, unequivocally discarded the term “social distancing”. Growing international concerns eventually prompted the World Health Organization to advocate the use of the term “physical distancing.”
Caste remains a fundamental component of the national conversation. It plays an instrumental role in shaping the structures of power and influence. Government data on social atrocities, released by the National Crime Records Bureau, recognizes it as a source of cardinal tension in rural and urban areas. The term “social distancing,” therefore, smacks of archaic practices that perpetuate casteism.
A prominent thinker on Dalit issues and professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Vivek Kumar says: “There is absolutely nothing like pristine, pure and universal culture. Terms are culturally specific, and therefore cultural constructs should also be specific to society. Social distancing in India was maintained during birth, death, and menstruation. Social distance is the totality of interactional distancing that prevents all cultural and physical commitments. Therefore, we should not even unconsciously legitimize anything that ends up intensifying divisions and social conflicts. ”
There is an imminent threat of social distancing that is gaining traction in society. The regressive sections could choose to justify traditional social distancing as an effective tool to counter the pandemic. It will be a great dent for the efforts of those who have dedicated their lives to the cause of fairness and equality. The movements for social reform against caste and its privileges are as old as Savitri Bai Phule and BR Ambedkar, and that fight for equality still continues. We must return to the preamble to the Constitution, which seeks to achieve social justice as the nation’s highest virtue.
Empathy, a sense of compassion, and efforts to achieve social solidarity to challenge Covid-19 must be recognized and encouraged at all levels. The head of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Mohan Bhagwat, also, in his speech to the nation, promoted the term “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing”. Leadership, both at the government and civil society levels, has shown that the crisis requires a socially coherent and comprehensive strategy.
India has made substantial progress, with a Dalit in the Rashtrapati Bhawan and a person from a socially backward community as the country’s prime minister. The country’s collective consciousness is at its highest point. The march towards social justice and equality must complement efforts to contain the pandemic without losing credibility. To crush the virus, this crisis must be transformed into an opportunity that combines the collective will of each Indian, regardless of caste, creed, gender, and religion.
Guru Prakash is an assistant professor at the University of Patna and a member of the Indian Foundation.
The opinions expressed are personal.