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Sympathy for the devils

  • Published at 08:52 pm March 23rd, 2020
rmg coronavirus mask
Photo: SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Now is the time to understand and educate

Words are easy. 

It’s easy to tell people to stay at home. It’s easy to make the message a part of your profile picture on social media platforms. It’s easy to scream out social distancing. 

It’s even easier to chastise those who don’t practice social distancing. Vilify them. Make a villain out of them. Call them irresponsible. A devil, if you will. 

I don’t and can’t dismiss this attitude entirely. These are difficult times. And it can’t be stressed enough how vital social distancing is going to be if we are going to come close to combating Covid-19 here in Bangladesh. 

Its population density, tendency to gather in large groups, and less-than-adequate health care facilities make it particularly susceptible. Throw in an infuriatingly misinformed and stubborn population, and it could turn out to be a catastrophe. 

However, these times also call for understanding. Above all, understanding two things. One, we have always been woefully nonchalant about our future. And two, that we’re essentially creatures of habit.

Despite warning signs all around, the fact of the matter is that Bangladesh has not seen the worst that the coronavirus can do. 

Therefore, while the people of Bangladesh should be taking every precaution to avoid the tragic situations that have befallen nations such as Iran and Italy, a significant chunk of the population remains unconcerned, lackadaisical. 

Last Friday, I implored my father to not go for his customary Jumma prayers. I tried a logical argument, I tried raising my voice, and I even tried emotional blackmail. All three approaches failed fantastically. 

But how does one suddenly change the behaviour of a 75-year-old man who has always attended Jumma prayers?

How does one ask a man of deep faith to suddenly abandon one of the most sacred parts of his routine? 

It is the same with the general population -- a people who have been shaped by gatherings, by adda, by commotion and chaos. We as a nation are notoriously communal. 

So how can we expect people to just unlearn that, merely because of a strange new disease that hasn’t really done much damage to the country at large yet? 

The other side of the story is a story of privilege. Once again, I harken back to the calls to stay at home, catch up on your Netflix, and practice social distancing. But what of those who cannot afford to practice social distancing? 

What about the cobbler on the side of the road, who relies on folks like you walking the streets to take note of him, and go over to him to fix a broken shoe? What becomes of him? How does he earn a living? 

What becomes of the rickshaw pullers who now must suddenly deal with the significantly lesser number of passengers to carry? What about the day labourers who must find work every day to feed their families? 

Consequently, what of our crowded factories? It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, they’re frighteningly crammed, and thus greatly increase the chances of the virus spreading. 

On the other hand, shutting them down, beyond greatly affecting the overall economy, also potentially takes away income that these people simply cannot afford to lose. 

What about our medical facilities? All signs point to how laughably inadequate they are, and if we experience anything like what Iran or Italy -- countries with health care facilities manifolds better than ours -- I shudder to think of what would befall our country. 

Thus, currently, there are more questions than answers. We all have our parts to play. If you can afford to stay at home, stay at home. And if you can show some compassion, some empathy, some sympathy -- even to those who may be acting unreasonably -- that would be great as well.

AHM Mustafizur Rahman is an Editorial Assistant at Dhaka Tribune.