As with the dawn of every New Year, 2020 was welcomed with cheer, bursting of balloons, feasting and bonhomie and the first few weeks of January unrolled with renewed pledges and new resolutions. Then suddenly as January days were almost over, there was news that a viral infection was raging through China, with thousands falling ill every day.
At that time, the world was too busy to be thinking about precautionary measures. The World Health Organisation warned that localized epidemics could take on the proportions of a pandemic, even worse than the early twentieth century Spanish Flu. The heedless, headstrong world with its plethora of projects for grabbing power and profit, dismissed the caveats as fantasizing thrills and chills and the superpowers of fluctuating gradations were sure that the glowing coronavirus that looked like a spiky sputnik was an Asian thing, a global South phenomena, integral to its poverty, low public health and hygiene.
When the pandemic set in, many recalled that in a United Nations and WHO meeting held in 2005, then US President George W Bush had stated, “A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire.” Bush said at the time, “If caught early it might be extinguished with limited damage. If allowed to smoulder, undetected, it can grow to an inferno that can spread quickly beyond our ability to control it. To respond to a pandemic, we need medical personnel and adequate supplies of equipment. In a pandemic, everything from syringes to hospital beds, respirators, masks and protective equipment would be in short supply.”
So when in early 2020 the world was in the grip of the pandemic, Slavoj Zizek stated in his text of counter-discourse, Pandemic, Covid 19 Shakes the World: “The coronavirus epidemic itself is clearly not just a biological phenomenon which affects humans: to understand its spread, one has to consider human cultural choices…economy and global trade, the thick network of international relations, ideological mechanisms of fear and panic.” Moreover, i ek suggested the possibility for “releasement”~ the use of “dead time”, “moments of withdrawal”, “for the revitalisation of our life experience” as lockdowns had enforced solitude, time to “think about the (non)sense of [our] predicament”.
In India too, suddenly from March 2020, the home became the shelter, refuge and haven of safety and security from the rampaging, ruthless virus, invisible and lethal. The human world groaned as it wrestled with the challenge of unprecedented times. The world waited impatiently for the invention of coronavirus annihilating vaccines. Laboratories worked 24×7. The weapons industries suddenly discovered their triggers were hopeless and absurd; guns, missiles and tanks gathered dust and drones groaned as their redundancy seemed so absurd in an abnormal world. The fighter planes looked like installation art on public display. It was of course the era of the New Normal. Lockdowns were announced when matters were getting out of control. Phased lockdowns, curfews, containment zones and hot spots swept through the world. Italy, France, UK, USA and Brazil were in a bizarre competition regarding maximum number of death scores. Many world leaders contracted the virus. Many survived. In India too MPs and MLAs had to be hospitalised as they tested Covid positive. Many survived. The names of those who lost their lives were not important. The overall number of victims was important and varied so often that many suspected that the figures were fudged.
Alarmingly, after the first phase of nationwide lockdown was announced in India, what really shocked the entire country was the misery of the migrant labourers who were compelled to walk back to their homes, hundreds or thousand miles away from their places of work. Administrative heads seemed totally oblivious about the millions of workers of the unorganised sectors, who had contributed so robustly to the GDP.
As if the unpreparedness of the public health administration was not a matter of shock and awe, as Covid 19 spread throughout the country, our government, promising to fortify an emergent New India, passed several contentious bills while the contagion raged, without any prior discussion with the 28 states of India. The wellknown normative practice is that states that are expected to implement the new bills and policies are asked by the central government to comment on their feasibility. The three Farm Bills led to a national uprising of farmers’ organisations as they were sceptical about the government’s intentions. They demanded the repeal of the three Bills till they were discussed threadbare in Parliament. The debacle continues. Also, the hue and cry about China’s salami-slicing Indian territory, somewhere around the Ladakh border, is still shrouded in mystery and rhetorical outburst.
Furthermore, the much feted proposed National Education Policy 2020, in place of the National Policy of Education 1986, may lead to resistance from many states, as there are some sticky issues about primary education being imparted in the mother tongue or the state/ regional language. Will this be implemented in the private English medium schools too?
Moreover, the hype about the efficacy of online education brings to the fore the digital divide, where the disadvantaged sections will invariably be deprived of accessing such online platforms.
Does this suggest that those who are unable to avail of digital instruction will have to opt for the showcased vocational training detailed in NEP 2020? If implemented, as proudly promised, this will obviously impact the poor students of the rural, urban and suburban areas, a significant percentage belonging to the reserved categories.
The confusing flexibility and fluidity of the undergraduate and postgraduate university courses, the scrapping of M.Phil and direct enrolment for research, may lead to a situation where our own citizens will find that our educational policies are exclusionary. The primary aim of universalizing education seems to be now projected as unsmart and antiquated.
The NEP 2020 on paper reads like a glamorous game changer, yet in order to avoid a frightening implosion in the knowledge domain, the participatory democratisation of the education process can be ensured through obtaining feedback about the proposed transformative policies from all central and state-funded institutions, as well as all private schools, colleges and universities. This is a crucial necessity before Members of Parliament put their seal on NEP 2020.
The year 2020 had been swaying on the edge of a precipice. One hopes 2021 will usher in greater empathy and tolerance, with complete respect for the vistas of democracy. Dismissive notions of excessive or extreme democracy, whenever there is disagreement or dissent, can only be destructive for both the citizen and the nation.