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COVID-19 is teaching us some tough lessons; I hope we learn.

The world has been fighting the novel coronavirus for almost three months now. At the time of writing, according to the World Health Organization’s 90th Situation Report, there are more than 2,241,359 confirmed COVID-19 cases with over 1,52,551 deaths in around 185 countries and territories across the globe. Over 611,000 people have recovered from the virus so far.

As the world fights this global pandemic, you would think that in these woke times, we would see empathy, love and respect for each other and for Mother Nature. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As it turns out, we are still living in medieval times when it comes to basic civility and being human. From the harsh treatment of migrant workers all over the world to the drastic change in pollution levels within weeks of lockdowns– COVID-19 is unmasking the modern age of homo sapiens.

We have ruined the planet with over-tourism.

Something that has come to light amidst this global pandemic is how terribly selfish we all are when it comes to our #travelgoals and #toursimplans. We are fed dreams, we see them and fly across the globe to live them. Travelling is great, exploring is important but there has to be some sort of check. 

We have ruined the planet with over-tourism. We talk about sustainability and climate change. We write millions of words in support of reducing the carbon footprint. We travel to cities, countries, and across continents to hold conferences on how we can help the climate. We need to stop. 

After the lockdown is over, there has to be some sort of annual cap on international travel. Within a few weeks of lockdown, Punjab has seen the Himalayan mountains, Singapore has spotted sea otters sunbathing, and in the US, penguins took to the roads to take a stroll! Air quality in major cities across the globe has improved and water bodies have clear water. If this is not enough evidence for us – doomsday is inevitable – coronavirus or not. 

This Earth Day, let us vow to learn this very important lesson from COVID-19 and when all of this is better, let us be better, more compassionate towards Mother Nature. 

We treat fellow humans based on what they do and how much they earn.

The meaning of the word “migrant” is a person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work or better living conditions.

I grew up in a small rural district called Begusarai in Bihar, India. When I was 18, I moved to New Delhi to pursue higher studies; I was an immigrant then. My husband moved to Singapore four years ago and I followed him here. So, by definition, I am an immigrant now too. However, fortunately, I do not fit the bill of today’s immigrants, who are disadvantaged and lack privilege. I am privileged. I have a house, food on my table, sanitary living conditions, wifi, and access to other supplies. Immigrants or migrant workers of the 21st century are unaccounted for and stranded. We use them to build our urban jungles and abandon them at the slightest hint of trouble. Sadly, it is true for all nations – the underdeveloped, the developing, as well as, the developed.

From Indian laborers, who move from villages to cities in search of work, to construction workers in Singapore, who come from all over the region; from Africans in China and immigrants in the US – the harsh realities of the lives of migrant workers are tragic everywhere. Amidst the pandemic, while over half a million laborers in India are stranded on the streets of big cities like Mumbai and Delhi, millions of immigrants in the US have been left unprotected.

As I sit and watch world news and read these stories, I am forced to wonder if I am a part of the problem. When people like you and me move to a different country in search of work or a better or different lifestyle, we are given different names like long-term pass holder, overseas person, or in my case, NRI. Unfortunately, when people who are not that high up in the capitalist food chain, move to a different city or country in search of work– they are called “migrant workers”. They are deemed unworthy of more. They are treated as beneath the rest of society and this could not be more evident, now, in almost all parts of the world. In good times, we talk about how far ahead mankind has come – we discuss the scope of artificial intelligence and brag about the potential of machine learning. In bad times, we can very clearly see that we are not actually that far ahead. We may have learned how to make friends with bots like Siri and Alexa but we still haven’t managed to develop systems of social service. 

Nature and humanity are the two things that make Earth special and different from the rest of the galaxy. This period of self-isolation and lockdown has given me a lot to think about and reflect on how I can try and be better than I was yesterday. They say that there was a world before COVID-19 and there will be word after. I hope in the post-pandemic world, we are better, more empathetic, and civil. I hope we are able to rise above race, class, and religion. I hope we don’t force Mother Nature to shut us in our homes once again, so she can come out and breathe. 

Happy Earth Day!

Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram

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