For millions of Americans, it was also the first step of moving out of the shadow of an era – precisely four years – marked by a surge in bigotry, intolerance, violence, and bankruptcy of American values. International newspapers went to town with headlines on the likes of The End of an Error, marking the conclusion of what must have been one the most tumultuous presidencies in American history.
The historic election might hold many valuable lessons for world leaders – but perhaps, the most valuable of these lessons might concern that of civility, fairness, and empathy. In India, a culture of corruption and apathy, or rather selective empathy, has often led to the loss of precious lives. Take, for instance, the migrant crisis that ensued in the aftermath of the lockdown being announced on March 23 this year, to curb the spread of the pandemic. Labour Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar had said in the Parliament in September that as many as 10 mn migrants went home during the lockdown, while 4 mn were unaccounted for. Sadly, just about 63 lakh people were sent home on Shramik trains, which provided meals for free.
The Centre also said that it had assured citizens of basic amenities such as food, water, and healthcare, but it was misinformation that caused migrants to panic for a ticket back home. When asked if it had any information about the number of migrant labourers who had died during the exodus, it was conveyed that the government does not maintain such data. For the record, the Stranded Workers Action Network did compile a report detailing the number of migrant labourers who succumbed to starvation, financial distress, accidents, and other causes – 971. They were essentially the casualties of a health crisis, where they did not have the option of telecommuting or social distancing, and for all practical purposes fell outside the radar of our collective empathy.
This absence of fairness is also highlighted when one considers the chasm separating communities in India. In September, a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras succumbed to her injuries after being sexually assaulted by men from an upper caste. To add insult to injury, the woman’s mortal remains were cremated in the dead of the night by policemen, without the consent of her family. And in a blatant exhibition of indifference, a video of the Hathras District Magistrate (DM) went viral, which seemingly showed him coercing the family into changing their statement. The Allahabad High Court last week asked the Uttar Pradesh government if it was fair and reasonable to allow the DM to continue in his portfolio, having taken full responsibility for the late-night cremation.
In the light of such incidents, citizens have a reason to question whether the government they choose to vote into power is truly working for their betterment. It’s a question every one of us has asked at one point in time – whether it’s after the custodial deaths of a father and son in Thoothukudi during the pandemic, or the collapse of a flyover in Kolkata, or when dilapidated buildings in Mumbai come crashing down, or even when a farmer is chased out of his home by loan sharks and driven to suicide due to mounting debts.
Our citizens need more than an outpouring of thoughts and prayers from the government, every time we are beset by a tragedy. What we need is a conscientious administration that takes decisions, keeping in mind the priorities of all sections of society in a holistic manner. Ideally, the next time we choose a government, let it be imperative that we elect individuals who rate high on the scale of empathy.