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Corona and an Invincible Social Virus

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As Corona takes a toll on human lives all over the world, it has also exposed a social virus that has been preying on a certain segment of society for eons.  A virus like Corona doesn’t discriminate on the basis of wealth, education, religion, language, race, nationality, etc.  So, when a virus like this attacks, the privileged segment of the society reacts in a selfish way to protect themselves which may in turn help some of the underprivileged ones.  Unfortunately that benefit to the underprivileged may be a bi-product and not necessarily an act of altruism.  I am not saying there is no altruism, but it is rare.  Like many epidemic of the past such as smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, scarlet fever, Spanish flu, Typhoid, Polio, SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) that had taken many lives, were contained eventually and lives were saved with vaccines and other medical and scientific inventions.  In most of these cases the underprivileged ones were simply a collateral beneficiary.  There has not been a focused and coherent effort to eradicate the social virus that plagues that segment of the society making them more vulnerable to disease, pandemic, natural disaster, war, etc. Yet they are the ones who serve the privileged segment of the society at an enormous risk to themselves making a meager living and less social benefit if any.

As Corona sweeps across the world taking hundreds of thousands of lives, it has exposed a naked social truth that poor lives don’t matter to most rich as the rich cannot feel their pain.  They think to help the poor is to drain the economy making them less wealthy.  If every life matters, why wouldn’t there be access to health care to the poor that the rich enjoys?  Because in all of the distribution of social services there is an underlying discrimination on the basis of race, wealth, etc.  It is like carrying coal to Newcastle.  Complaints from a rich neighborhood gets attention right away.  If power goes out, it is restored quickly.  Their streets are well maintained.  Fancy businesses open up.  Police personnel rush to their rescue if there is a problem.  That hardly happens in a poor neighborhood.  Police watch poor neighborhoods with a disdain because of the biased perception that most of the troublemakers live in a poor neighborhood or amongst the racial minorities.  Because the poor don’t have the political clout, their voice gets muted and there is generally no one to listen to their cries.  Housing is hard to come by.  Living conditions are poor.  Nutritional food is scarce for them resulting in general poor health making them easily susceptible to an epidemic.  No business wants to go into poor places, as poor customers don’t have the purchasing power.  There is hardly any medical doctor in poor and rural areas, as most doctors want to work in a big hospital in a big city for the big money.  This was true in the past in the days of Lords, Barons, Kings, and Maharajas and it is true even in the 21st century even in the midst of abundance and in so called democracies where pseudo kings rule with the power of wealth and under the veil of democracy.  The wealthy and power hungry show up at the doors of the poor only at election time making mockery of democracy.  They care only for their votes and nothing else.

From pandemic like Corona, racial minorities and poor people die at a disproportionate rate.  In the Chicago area with a 29% black population, 70% of the people who died from Corona are black.  It is the same story in Louisiana and several other states.  Generally poor people including the blacks do some of the low paying, minimum wage jobs such as janitorial services, grocery store clerks, school bus drivers, fast food chains, and so on.  They are the front-line workers to society.  Yet they lack health care, are generally of poor health, suffer from racial biases, and likely to be given lower priority for testing and treatment.  These are the people who generally live from day to day and if they lose their jobs, their livelihood is also at stake.  This kind of underlying discrimination exist all over the world, granted to different degrees.

When the Indian government declared a nationwide lock down for three weeks, it was the day laborers in thousands who suddenly became homeless and deprived of food as they had no income.  Thousands took to the streets to head back to their village home (if they had one) on foot walking hundreds of miles.  The lock down did not mean much to them, as they were facing another calamity staring at them, namely starvation.  And the privileged ones were upset at them for defying lock down and for fear of spread of the virus to them.  The middle class (approx. 30%) can’t even imagine being in the shoes of those underdogs and yet treat them like dirt.  70% live barely with or without the curse Corona.  And the government and the health professionals, with good intention, talk about the importance of washing hands.  Many don’t even have enough drinking water or they have to walk a mile or stand in line with their pots and pans to get some water from a water truck.  And if any compatriot even had the looks of a Chinese person, they would be spat on or ridiculed.  This happened in the US too as the president himself called the virus a Chinese Virus with an undertone of a racial bias.

Then there are the forgotten ones – the refugees including children and orphans in Syria already suffering from the ravages of a brutal war.  And the refugees, stuck in a little island called Lesbos, try to flee with their children from war and hunger for a place without war to rebuild their lives.  They are still unwanted by anyone.  Who cares about whether they survive Corona or not?  Then there are the forgotten victims of war in Yemen.  And the children growing up in Dharavi in the shadow of Bollywood!  And on and on.

Those of us, the privileged ones, are trying to save our own lives from Corona keeping social distance and washing hands million times, watching TV, or commenting on Facebook about what a hard and boring life we have or giving advice as to how to stay safe.  The trash pick-up people still come for a meager earning to empty your trash cans.  Someone comes to manicure your lawn.  You order food online to be delivered at your door by those minimum wage people.  And you think your life has come to a standstill being stuck in the house.  You worry about the stock market going down.  The government wants to open the country up for business, because the thinking is “cure cannot be worse than the problem”.  You are thinking of your shrinking stock market savings.  The poor live on the main street, not on Wall Street or Dalal Street.  They have no money to buy food or for treatment if their child is dying, let alone buying a share of a big corporation.  You think your life is hard, you wonder how you are going to manage the remaining years of your life with your savings shrinking.  Economy is reversible, but death is not.  Corona must be tackled and it will be behind us in time.  But when will we put all our effort to get rid of the Social Virus?





Lohit Datta-Barua (USA)

Dr. Lohit Datta-Barua has lived in Houston since 1973. As an inspiring writer and contributor to social justice he continues to touch people’s lives. As of 2019 Datta-Barua has authored eleven books, six in English, and five in his mother tongue Assamese. His latest book, “One Long Journey” is primarily a story of survival and hope in the face of of adversity and social upheaval, which Datta-Barua hopes can inspire his readers. All proceeds from “One Long Journey” go for orphan welfare.

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