Just as the dead on the river will not complain so too we shall suffer in silence. Those who scream shall be ignored. A few whose voices carry far will be rarely heard and often intimidated. Others will be busy swallowing up their anger while sweeping up leads for remdesivir and oxygen.
If the dead on the river could speak, what would they ask from their watery graves? For a few litres of oxygen or a hospital bed, they would wonder.
This would be the resounding question in the country of the COVID dead - friends, relatives, acquaintances, the bright-eyed colleague or the soft-spoken poet who wrote those moving lines looping in my head today.
Too many deaths numb our senses. Uncounted losses inure us to the magnitude of the tragedy. That’s when the forces of darkness begin to prevail, there lies the juncture wherefrom the pandemic having destroyed our minds might not bother about killing us again.
The zenith of despair has arrived, the peak of anguish climbed and a downhill run now begins, burning through the lives and laughter of another hundred thousand unfortunates. The virus is sneaking into our villages. Can we remain silent?
Lives lost because of lack of preparedness, fellow citizens committed to eternal sleep as mixed priorities sunk our boat. True, the magnitude of the pandemic has made short work of the best plans of advanced economies but this will never justify throwing caution to the wind as we did in this country.
This is a country which in a much-lauded effort had championed the manufacture of generic HIV/AIDS medicines that eventually provided treatment access to thousands.
Now as we face our biggest crisis since Independence it is not quite clear why our government isn’t pushing patent waivers for domestic manufacture of vaccines (excepting Covaxin relaxations) while leading a global call for the same.
When so many vaccines are being developed worldwide, the technological barriers cannot be insurmountable. We are fighting a war and the window for radical measures like patent waivers and a war-tax on the rich to fund our efforts is closing.
The Bombay High Court’s Goa bench recently said coronavirus patients dying due to lack of oxygen is a violation of Article 21 of our Constitution.
Oxygen aid has been pouring in but how can we justify to the suffering and the dead that our public healthcare budget as a percentage of GDP remains woefully low compared to many countries while our space budget, already huge, received a Rs 4,449 crore boost this year.
Today we read about cheap ventilators developed by our space programme but have we calculated the social development impact per rupee spent on space compared to its alternative allocation in healthcare, vaccine capacity-augmentation and 'human development'?
Life is indeed cheap when money spent on moon shots and extravagant projects matters more than free shots of lifesaving vaccines.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so does suffering and there are questions which the international community needs to address someday. The weight of evidence about possible lab leak of SARS-CoV-2 has been accumulating and is lately in the news again.
We are appalled to know that viruses are routinely made more infective in so called gain-of-function experiments because some believe these studies can help us prepare for pandemics. Clearly virologists in particular and the scientific community in general need to appreciate the terrible risks and arrive at a decision to impose strict controls or a ban on such research on the basis of a strong application of the precautionary principle.
The early days of the outbreak of this killer disease in Wuhan were marked by the well-known delays in warning and sounding of alarm bells which helped the virus to spread. Recently also, there are reports of refusal of access to WHO investigators by Chinese authorities.
The evil-god of all disasters feeds on lack of transparency, authoritarianism and poor governance and the worldwide experience of Covid should move us to work harder for transparency and democracy wherever it is lacking.
Finally if the virus, like many before it, jumped to humans in a natural spillover event then the culpability of our resource-intensive economic growth paradigm which facilitates such occurrences, increases manifold. Wherever truth may be hidden it has to be revealed one day.
We owe it to the more than three million dead and the monumental worldwide suffering that this happens soon. That the questions are answered, closure is achieved and gentler ways of living on the planet are embraced.
(The writer is a climate activist and can be contacted at email@example.com)