Read Editorial with D2G – Ep 437

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Script of unity: On coronavirus and social prejudices

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Meanings are given in BOLD

Prime Minister  Narendra Modi’s reminder that COVID-19 does not recognise “race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or border” before striking, was axiomatic ( self-evident or unquestionable) but essential. The pandemic has fanned ( cause (a belief or emotion) to become stronger or more widespread) the flames of communalism instead of dousing (lower quickly) them, as it has compounded economic woes ( great sorrow or distress (often used hyperbolically)).

The Prime Minister has recognised the calamitous ( involving calamity; catastrophic or disastrous)  rage ( violent uncontrollable anger) of the virus when he called for “response and conduct” that “should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood”. He cannot be more right about the fact that countries and societies can no longer afford to face off with one another and the future can be secured only through togetherness and resilience ( the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness).

He spoke against the backdrop of criticism of the apparent communal ( shared by all members of a community; for common use ) strand ( leave (someone) without the means to move from somewhere) in the response of some sections to the COVID-19 challenge.The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the UN expressed concern over stigmatisation ( the action of describing or regarding someone or something as worthy of disgrace or great), in India, of a particular community.

India sought to reject these concerns as external interference, which they were. But then, as he noted, the virus threat has made borders irrelevant. There have been reports of religious discrimination towards patients. The situation was aggravated ( made more severe in recognition of the seriousness of an offence) when a vocal section of the Indian diaspora ( people who have spread or been dispersed from their homeland), often touted ( attempt to sell (something), typically by a direct or persistent approach) as proponents of India’s interests in their host countries, was seen as Islamophobic ( having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force) in the UAE.

Such odious ( extremely unpleasant; repulsive) digital behaviour routinely goes unquestioned in India, but in the UAE, the response has been quick. Many have lost their jobs for posting hateful content and this culture of diatribe ( a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something) now looms over a critical bilateral relationship that Mr. Modi has personally nurtured ( care for and protect (someone or something) while they are growing). The Indian Ambassador to the UAE reminded expatriates ( a person who lives outside their native country) that discrimination was against “our moral fabric and the rule of law”.

Indeed. The narrative of the pandemic as a communal conspiracy ( a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful) against the nation began to take shape immediately after a Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi in March turned out to be a prodigious ( remarkably or impressively great in extent, size, or degree) source of the contagion ( the spreading of a harmful idea or practice). The Centre and the Delhi government appeared to be using the unfortunate episode scripted by an irresponsible and ignorant group to fend off ( defend oneself from a blow, attack, or attacker) scrutiny ( critical observation or examination) of their own shortcomings. A section of the media continues to play a dishonourable role in amplifying it.

In an environment that is already rife ( (especially of something undesirable) of common occurrence; widespread) with fear and uncertainty, the official communications strategy must focus on building trust and offering reassurance. The extremely inadequate messaging has led to stigmatisation of patients and their families, and despicable ( deserving hatred and contempt)  incivility ( rude or unsociable speech or behaviour)  towards even the bodies of unfortunate victims. All this makes the Prime Minister’s statement timely. His call for unity in the face of this calamity must be translated into firm action, and a good place to begin is the government’s own messaging.

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