What would happen when the current coronavirus pandemic, which has upended the world with its visibly invisible terror, is over? Would it have far-reaching social, political and economic ramifications at multiple levels in unforeseeable ways? Would it compel the state to redefine its responsibility towards the citizens especially the underprivileged and the deprived? And above all would the prevalent greed driven system, which has impaired the relationship between human society and nature, control its insatiable lust for unbridled expansion? Questions such as these are being debated vociferously all over the world.

In the wake of pandemic future scenario of state and society is being painted by professionals and amateurish hands with unusual aplomb. What triggers this charged dialogue and debate is the misery of hundreds of millions across the globe and the pathetically inadequate response of states of diverse persuasions to a crisis situation not anticipated. Many think we would have a transformed society to the benefit of people. Such optimism is apparently inspired by the fact that the latest virus doesn’t distinguish between the rich and poor, race and colour, and caste and creed. It flouts all the boundaries absolutely undeterred by the perimeter walls erected by nationalism and any other ‘ism’ in pursuit of exclusivity.

The rosy picture of the future hinges on the supposition that the present universal spectacle of misery and death would melt the heart of the heartless and move the ‘soul of the soulless’ who have the power to make and unmake the world. The sheer number of the dead and sick would humanize the long held dehumanized societal vision of the power-wielders.

“Is oppression as old as the moss around ponds? … I have read songs of the Egyptians, of their men who built the pyramids / they complained of their loads and asked when oppression would cease? / …When a child is about to be run down by a car one pulls it on to the pavement…Anyone pulls the child away from the car/ But here many have been run down, and many pass by and do nothing of the sort/ Is it because it’s so many who are suffering? /Should one not help them all the more because they are many? / One helps them less…/ The more there are suffering, then, the more natural their sufferings appear...” , poet Bertolt Brecht tells us.

Now imagine a post coronavirus scene. A reduced number of vehicles ply on the cities’ roads, highways and dirt tracks emitting poisonous fumes. Man breathes comfortably. Imagine less number of railway trains, ships and aircraft sending plumes of noxious gases to space. Man looks at the sky and fails to count the stars. Imagine a reduced number of industrial units spewing chemical pollutants the innards of the earth go down with. Man throws away his disposable bottle and drinks water from the tap or hand pump.

Imagine the members of ethnic and religious minorities aren’t accosted at the sidewalks and parks. Their children aren’t jeered at. All are received with a smile here, there and everywhere. Imagine a ban on the further expansion of human settlement and the right of inviolable spaces for wildlife to exist. Humans and beasts are stakeholders in the matters of natural environment the planet is endowed with. Animals tell their tale of woes and man listens to decipher what has been lost in his march at the cost of shared animal kingdom.

Imagine less crowded streets, towns and cities. The world is afflicted with lesser number of humans. The earth stops crying after getting relief from the dead weight of trampling billions. Man stretches his hands and moves unhindered without the fear of being crushed or crushing anyone under his feet. Imagine the elites becoming a little compassionate and socially responsible. They stop counting the monies they can’t keep count of. They share their wealth with the people who with their knowledge, skills and labour helped them accumulate it. They declare surplus what is more than what their genuine human needs require. They conceive the world as shared, not exclusive. Man is under less stress of conflict with the gulf between classes reduced.

Lastly imagine the state, which has historically been beholden to upper classes and have represented their core interests, acts on the principle of equitable distribution of resources. It treats all its citizens as equal and refuses to accept anyone as ‘more equal’. It stands for the collective good, not for the exclusive interests of certain groups and classes. But wake up, stop living in a la- la land. Once the pestilence is under control, the things would regain their usual shape; they would be what were, dehumanized. Experience of a crisis situation gets dimmed from the memory of the people and that of institutions once the things are back to normal. The system based on greed rather than need has survived for thousands of years and may survive for many more unless those who suffer in it rise and change it. But those who suffer have little empathy for others who suffer equally. Our social system was neither built by nature nor would it be changed by it. It’s human construction and humans will change it if they ever do it.

What we are sure to see is quite the opposite; the enhanced pervasive and penetrative reach of the state. It would use its unique once-in-centuries experience of strictly controlling its vastest expanses and harshly directing maximum number of its citizens in the matters of their private and public lives. Citizens and subjects, prepare yourself for a new strict regimen which is going to be put in place by the state and its real beneficiaries. — soofi01@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2020