The coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) has been a great teacher. It has taught different lessons to different people. It has succeeded in shaking the confidence of the entire seven billion people of the world. It has also generated an unprecedented spurt in research and thought processes ~ scientific, medical, philosophical, literary and cultural. Covid-19 has forced us to revisit the human civilisation and introspect very deeply into our civilisational goals, practices, and outcomes.
Our present industrial civilisation which is based on ruthless competition has, in less than 200 years, devastated almost everything natural on earth ~ the rivers, the oceans, the forests, the wild life, various species, the climate and above all morality. Universal Moral Principles and Natural Laws govern the animal world and in fact, the entire universe. While the animal world of which humans are a part follow Natural Laws and Universal Moral Principles, humans have completely deviated from them and have been the victims of all vices.
The difference in DNA between elephants, horses, cows, lions and tigers and man is less than two per cent and it is this additional two per cent extra in man, which has caused havoc. The “higher animals” that have similar feelings and behavioural pattern like humans do not know how to conspire and commit heinous crimes like rape and murder and will never destroy Nature. Human civilisation on the other hand has perfected the art of treachery, cruelty and all kinds of crimes and has developed all the weapons to finish the world.
Inevitably and inexorably, the industrial civilisation is on a destructive mode. Humans are of one of about nine million known species living on earth. Whether God has created them or Nature has made them, all species have a right to live and have a space on this planet. Who is man to decide whether they should live or not? There could have been 1 trillion life forms on planet earth but more than 99 per cent of the species that ever lived on earth are believed to be extinct. In 2019, it was estimated that 8.7 million species now live on earth out of which only 1.3 million species have been identified and data-based.
Our civilisation has been responsible for the annihilation and near-extinction of a large number of species, especially wild animals. The pandemic has put a big question mark on the ‘humanity’ of humans. Are we really humane? Humanity means compassion, and compassion cannot be restricted to humans only. It needs to be extended to all living beings. Gautama Buddha, perhaps the greatest human being ever walking on this earth advocated compassion and non-violence to all the humans, the animals and the plants.
Swami Vivekananda said, “Those who serve living beings are serving God”. Lord Mahavira and the Jain sects extend the concept of non-violence to an extreme extent where even the insects cannot be harmed. Gandhiji said, ‘We have no right to kill if we cannot give life.’ The humans have to decide now whether indiscriminate killing of animals for food and the infinite cruelty committed against them should stop. One of the renowned physicists in his recent book has warned about the consequences of the unbearable cruelty and ‘combined pain’ coming out of the slaughter houses, the marketplaces, and the homes.
He had predicted that the ‘combined pain’ will force Nature to take revenge in the form of earthquakes, diseases and disasters. This sounded surreal but a prognosis coming from a living physicist cannot be wished away. Does it mean that man has to give up non-vegetarian food? Probably not. But, humans must resist exotic foods and confine themselves to ‘natural foods’. Fish, eggs and milk products could be included in the list of natural foods although the Vegan advocates would not approve of it. Covid-19 has shown that individual rights, identity, freedom and privacy cannot be absolute and are almost meaningless in the context of a pandemic.
A few individuals’ choice of food is capable of triggering a disaster in the whole world as evidenced by the recent events. Similarly, permissive sex habits of a few individuals have in the past transmitted deadly diseases to a larger community. In Wuhan, in the wild animal meat market, the coronavirus might have jumped from bats to pangolin and then to one or a small group of customers. The rest is history; it spread like wildfire. The wildfire has engulfed 200 countries causing untold suffering, devastation and death to millions. The world will not be same.
It will take many years for man to recover from the trauma, heal the wounds, and put the economies on the growth path. This is not the first time that a pandemic originated in and spread from China. This time it has come as an apocalypse. It may not be the end of the world but it will certainly devastate large parts of the world. China must put to an end to all kinds of trade in wild animals and change their food habits. If China fails to do that, other countries will be forced to review their relations and interactions with the Chinese people. The world cannot take another risk.
In a pandemic situation when death is lurking everywhere, privacy, individual rights, identities, individual choice of food and sex, even life itself look meaningless. As Steve Jobs said in his last lecture that death is a great equaliser and in the face of a death warrant, success, wealth, fame and status lose all meaning. The virus will not make any distinction between the rich and the poor, the whites and the blacks, the powerful and the weak and between the developed and the under- developed nations, Covid-19 will probably sound the death knell for globalisation.
Globalisation, a historical process, accelerated at jetset speed during the last four decades making the world a ‘global village’. In the past, agents for globalisation had been the warriors, the adventurers, the priests and the traders. The traders, the settlers and the priests along with their goods and faiths also carried deadly germs and diseases with them. Even a small uncharted island like Little Andaman did not escape from the venereal disease which the aborigines, the Onge tribe, received from the missionaries. Interactions with different regions and different peoples went unabated but the process had been very slow and the impact was almost imperceptible.
But, during the past 50 years, the main agents of globalisation have been the multinationals. Undisputedly, globalisation has done tremendous good to many nations by introducing new technologies, new research and inventions, efficient production process, new work culture, new tastes and greater managerial skills. Their supra-national operations contributed a great deal in making the world a virtual global village. But the darker side of globalization is often suppressed by the powerful.
A question naturally arises ~ who benefits from globalisation? The unprincipled “Race to the Bottom” (going to the country having the lowest labour rate and cost) by the multinationals resulted in a constant shift in operations from one country to another, first from the developed countries to China, then to Vietnam, then to Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh and so on. One by one, almost all the manufacturing companies closed their factories in the USA and established their production units in South China and then in other countries.
This was rightly perceived by the American workers as unpatriotic if not antinational. The multinationals started operations wherever they could earn maximum profits without paying any heed to human rights and exploitation of labour including child and women labour. Wal-Mart and others who had outsourced a large part of their branded garment items to Bangladesh completely absolved themselves of any responsibility for the devastating fires in their factories and tragic deaths of hundreds of poor workers who were paid a pittance working in pitiable conditions.
Covid-19 has exposed the frailties of liberal democracies. The pandemic created an extraordinary situation which called for extraordinary measures and swift actions. This is possible only when there is a strong government capable of proper planning, quick decision-making and ruthless implementation. In India, only Kerala has put in place a decentralised public health care system which is equipped to combat the pandemic. In West Bengal, as well as in all other States, the public health system is in disarray and the health establishments are overwhelmed.
By the time the war against coronavirus is won, millions of people will have suffered and more than a million would be dead. Citizens of the world have already paid a heavy price for the helplessness, inaction and inept handling of the pandemic by the democratic governments. The disorders may cause major tectonic shifts in the political and economic systems. All the nations of the world are going to suffer from psychic disorders too. The world will never be the same again.
(The writer is a former Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General of India and a former Banking Ombudsman of Reserve Bank of India)