• Wednesday, Oct 20, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:59 pm

Compassion, not cruelty

  • Published at 08:00 pm March 29th, 2020
Traffic police in Shahbagh Rajib Dhar
Traffic police personnel flag down rickshaw pullers and motorcycle riders at Shahbagh intersection in Dhaka on Friday, March 27, 2020 Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

In the middle of the corona crisis, kindness is the best approach to ensuring that people listen

With coronavirus triggering an upheaval across the globe, many cities are under partial or full lockdown. Dhaka belongs to the former category: pharmacies, groceries, and some markets are open. The mantra for the lockdown everywhere is to stay indoors as much as possible and practice physical distancing. However, in ensuring that people are adhering to the rules, there have been cases where humiliating punishment was meted out for not wearing masks. 

A Facebook post that went viral showed the AC land serving as a magistrate for a mobile court in Jessore punishing two elderly men for not wearing masks. The image also showed the AC taking photos of the two embarrassed men holding their ears. 

Now, there can be two ways of looking at this: First, if people do not obey the rules, there has to be some measures; the second point is that in a situation where the whole country is facing an emergency-like situation over a health issue, compassion and reason are more effective than punishment.

Force is not always the answer

Unfortunately, discipline in our country indicates a set of rules imposed upon a group of people; those who do not or cannot follow them are reprimanded and punished as a warning to others. That’s why at schools, we still find teachers often beating students with scales or dusters. In some schools, there are special rods for this purpose. The utterly flawed belief: “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” is still ingrained in us.

In the current world, especially in developed countries, punishment has been relegated to make way for counseling and efforts that try to understand why some pupils tend to break rules. 

In many cases, the juvenile delinquent may be subconsciously acting out what they see at home. When a child is witness to repressive behaviour towards their mothers at home on a regular basis, the seeds of violence are sown into the mind. Of course, I am not a psychologist and can only provide a very shallow notion of how children are influenced by the behaviour of their elders.

The point is, in this modern age, the black and white, often over-simplistic distinction between obedience and the unruly fail to address deeper social demons that lurk below the surface of a seemingly normal existence. 

In the current social scenario, where we are living with certain regulations to stem the spread of corona, a few actions by people in authority have drawn criticism as they appeared to be downright cruel. 

Try a kind and reasonable approach

There is no doubt that we are passing a national and global crisis and in such a state, a kind approach can bring the authority closer to the people instead of alienating them. It’s true some people do not realize the gravity of the situation and may decide not to wear masks, but instead of resorting to threats, intimidation, or humiliating punishment, they should be told with affection laced with reason.

In the case where the two men were punished by the AC, the offenders were on the road without masks and instead of the harsh method, the compassionate approach could have made the magistrate more humane. If the photo showed the magistrate telling the elderly men with kindness and humility, the Facebook image would have gone viral for a totally different reason. 

Too many times, we see people with power resort to brute force. This is possibly a legacy from colonial times, when the main objective was to instil fear and terror in the hearts of the masses. 

This is not to say that law enforcement should never be robust. However, this is certainly not the time for acting like tyrants. 

Regrettably, the authority could not take a firm stand against expatriates who came in droves a month ago and began mixing freely in their communities. There was even an incident which went viral, showing a returnee from Italy resorting to expletives in horribly wrong English when he was confronted with the mandatory quarantine period before being allowed to go free. 

When a strict position could not be taken against expatriates, becoming harsh with locals can hardly be justifiable. 

Most people are adhering to the rules because due to TV channels and other campaigns, almost everyone is aware of the safety measures needed. 

Some may be flouting them, but before we swiftly resort to admonition or rebuke, let’s ask why a person is not wearing a mask. 

It should not be a revelation that putting a mask over the mouth is discomforting and those with breathing problems or asthma may find it more of a torture. In the case of older people, a mask is actually a hindrance to breathing.

The world is suffering and unity, empathy, compassion can create a bond between the people and the administration.

Lest we forget what Shakespeare said in Measure for Measure: It’s excellent to have a giant’s strength but it’s tyrannous to use it like a giant.

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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