The world, the pandemic, and my privilege
Nehal Sharma is a Political Science graduate from Delhi University. She is a feminist and enjoys baking, reading and writing.
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Two days after India observed the Janta Curfew on the fourth Sunday of March, I stepped out from the house to buy a few snacks- my fuel for late-night study sessions. We did not have face masks at home by then, so I took a scarf and wrapped it around my face. I picked up my wallet, phone, and keys to my Activa and headed out. As I reached the main road, nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed. My city, which was always in a rush, hustling and bustling with people all around, filled with noises of vehicles honking, people chattering, street vendors calling, cows mooing, dogs barking, and the occasional music from a lounge was engulfed in a deafening silence. The streets were absolutely empty, with only silence lingering around. It felt eerie. It felt as if I was suddenly in the midst of a ghost town.
The apocalypse that the future was promised to bring with it was here. And it was as terrifying as we were expecting it to be, if not more. If you had told me even six months ago, the world would come to a standstill like this in the 21st century, I would have laughed and so would have everyone else.
In such uncertain times, I, like many others, tried to be up to date with the developments that were taking place. Having the correct information has definitely helped me remain calm and not panic. I have tried to keep up with what policies are being rolled out, what the data is predicting, what the Indian government, foreign governments, and international organizations are saying.
I do not know if everyone around is more aware, or if social media has played a role or if it’s because I have actively sought out more information, but these days I have experienced an overflow of information. There is a deeper penetration of news everywhere. I see sixteen-year-olds who are definitely more aware than I was when I was their age.
With this supply of information came a feeling I had not expected to have. The feeling of being helpless and overwhelmed. I had heard time and again, “Knowledge is power.” So I was hoping to feel that power. I was hoping that by being aware, I would get the chance to be better and do better. But, the exhaustion that the knowledge brought with itself took me by surprise.
The burden of knowing turned out to be heavier than the burden of not knowing. No matter how empathetic you are, learning about the world shows you your privilege in ways you could never have imagined.
I am tucked miles away from any tangible impact this pandemic can have on my family or me. The only real risk it poses is in the form of one of us actually contracting it. This again is very less likely because all of us can afford to stay inside our homes and limit our visits outside to a bare minimum. This is the story of privilege for most middle and upper-class households in urban India during this lockdown. However, the story of the rest of the Bharat is in stark contrast to this.
I am not downplaying the aftermath of contracting the virus, but simply trying to note that this is much more than just a health crisis. The pandemic has not impacted all of us equally. It has hit the underprivileged harder. It is life-threatening to a lot of people, even if they do not get infected.
With the lockdown in place, everyone has free time on their hands. Everyone is trying to find an outlet for the frustration that is being caused by staying at home. People are turning to cooking and baking, curating home workout routines, starting quarantine Challenges, reading books, watching shows and movies, etc. And all of this is, of course, shared online for everyone to see, follow along and adapt.
I post this series on my private Instagram called “Being Chef.” I enjoy cooking and posting about it. With the lockdown in place, my only escape from studying came in the form of baking. The first thing I made was a Chocolate cake. I was so delighted, and it had turned out great. But I could not get myself to post it. It felt so insensitive to put that out, given that thousands of people were at the edge of starvation. I felt guilty for displaying my ability to treat myself in these circumstances. I felt guilty for my privilege
On some days, I spent hours actively reading live COVID related data. It became impossible to have a conversation with anyone without mentioning the lockdown or the virus. Seeing the pictures of rooms full of coffins in Italy, refrigerator trucks being used to store bodies in the US, migrant workers walking for miles carrying their children to reach home in India were deeply disturbing, to say the least. The pandemic has brutally exposed how broken the system is all across the globe. It has thrown light on the extreme inequalities that exist in societies.
And then, some days I chose not to read any news at all. I chose to turn a blind eye to reports of people dying due to negligence, some being horribly affected due to government actions, some falling victim to identity politics, some walking miles home in the absence of public transportation, some starving, some losing jobs, some losing family and some even losing their homes.
I had to choose to do so because I had trouble absorbing all this information and dealing with it. I couldn’t keep up with all the awful things that were happening around us. I cried reading people’s stories, had trouble sleeping and functioning like a normal person. For the first time, I felt extremely anxious. I got overwhelmed learning about how broken the system is. I got angry at myself. I got disappointed in myself that I couldn’t even deal with learning about people’s stories, while they are living them.
But, I am slowly learning to be kind to myself. The world is gruesome, and learning about it takes a toll on you. I am learning to allow myself to take time to perceive the copious amounts of information I get every day and to even step away from the news once in a while when it seems necessary.
I am learning that it is alright for me to share what I want on social media as long as I am not being insensitive to others. Even though some of us have it worse than others, this is a hard time for everyone, and we are all trying to do our best.
I have realized that some days will be more difficult than others, and that’s okay. Some issues will bother me more, and some issues will bother you more, and that’s okay. Some days you will hate your privilege, and that’s okay.
I have realized that we all live in bubbles. Our interactions are largely limited to people from similar backgrounds. Therefore, understanding the struggles of those living a life different than us is difficult. It is very easy to be ignorant, but it takes effort to be empathetic. We have to try to be aware of our place in society and recognize our privilege. It might stem from facts, such as, living in an urban city, owning a house, having two parents, a constant source of income, a job that allows you to work from home, the ability to afford the things you want, having the opportunity to pursue an education in a different city or country, your gender, your sexuality, or anything else. The very first step we can take is by understanding that not everyone has these privileges and having empathy for others.
Even if the world seems to be in a dark place right now and you can’t help but feel overwhelmed and helpless, you can find peace by doing your bit. It can be by donating to credible sources, continuing to pay your employees, offering support to someone in distress, checking up on older people living near you, being nice to your neighbors, spreading awareness, lending your voice to the causes you support, learning more and becoming more sensitive to people’s struggle.
There is strength in realizing how little things go a long way, and you don’t have to be doing something significant to be doing something great. There is strength in realizing that while we can’t choose the privilege we are born in, we can choose what we do with it.
Featured Image Credits: Wikimedia
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