In February 2020 media began reporting the spread of a new virus in the world and it soon became the prime topic of discussion among us colleagues. I visited the website of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for authentic information on the issue.
That was the time when we used to say jokingly that handshakes would soon become history and that we would have to greet each other with a Namaste. At that time, who knew that the day was not far off when we would be penalised for not wearing face masks?
That was the time when we used to discuss the justification for and the pros and cons of installing biometric machines for recording attendance. At that time, who knew that the day was not far off when installing a spy app would be made compulsory for all? Who knew that let alone biometric machines, we would soon allow ourselves to be subjected to surveillance of many kinds?
I have legions of friends and they include journalists, social activists and academicians working in the Hindi belt. But barring a few, none of them is even remotely concerned about the long term implications of the current goings-on.
In one city, cameras equipped with face-recognition technology have been installed on the roads. In another, drone cameras are being used to keep an eye on the citizens.
Why are skeptics and questioners in such a short supply in the Hindi belt? In fact, even our language reflects our tendency of keeping mum, of not asking questions. There are very few words in Hindi that can express the dangers inherent in such totalitarian surveillance? Has this anything to do with our culture?
A new disease made its appearance; it was declared an epidemic and soon we were bombarded with so-called ‘scientific facts’ and ‘expert opinions’. We immediately confined ourselves to our homes without caring to explore the sources of this bombardment and their objectives.
We were told that this is happening all over the world. But in the age of the Internet, we did have the means to discover that nowhere on the earth were the citizens subjected to such draconian restrictions.
The claim that India is a ‘Vishwaguru’ (teacher of the world) finds the greatest resonance in the Hindi belt with some worthies basing their claim on Vedic philosophy and others on Buddhist teachings. But why none of us got up and said that we shouldn’t follow other nations blindly?
We were told that this disease is fatal and we accepted it without demur. We did not care to find out the number of deaths due to TB, pneumonia, malaria, chamki bukhar (acute encephalitis syndrome) etc in the Hindi belt. According to one estimate, 5-7 lakh persons die due to these diseases every year in the Hindi-speaking states.
We were told that this disease is highly contagious. But why are we ignoring the fact that its R factor (rate of infection) is one-fifth of that of TB. We were told that a large number of persons are dying of Covid. Why we didn’t try to explore out how many people around us have died of the disease and how many were killed by the lockdown?
We were told that this disease is dangerous because it is caused by a virus and has no cure. Why it didn’t occur to us that chamki bukhar and Japanese Encephalitis, which kill hundreds of children from poor families in the Hindi belt, are also viral diseases and have no cure. Chamki bukhar is such a dangerous and mysterious affliction that we still do not know for sure what causes it. It afflicts thousands of children of 1-15 years age group in the Hindi belt and hundreds of them die within a few days of contracting the disease.
The Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of COVID 19 is less than three per cent while the death rate of these fevers is 30 per cent. What prevented us from asking why these diseases are not taken seriously. Is it because most of their victims are the Dalits, the Backwards and the poor or because pharmaceutical companies cannot hope to make a fast buck from them? Why are we not asking whether it is true that the Government of India hides the actual number of deaths from diseases like malaria and cholera, which kill the poor?
Why are we not asking why deaths due to pneumonia, influenza and cardiac arrest are being added to the COVID 19 death toll? What is the objective of this fudging of figures?
We are being told that everything is being done as per the guidelines of the WHO. Why are we not asking how credible the WHO is? Isn’t it true that WHO has been charged with protecting the interests of Big Pharma?
In this context, it would be relevant to quote from an email of my friend Riyaz-ul-Haq, who is a research scholar in Germany. He drew my attention to the fact that “The apathy of WHO etc. towards the diseases stalking the poor countries is that the Western nations have, more or less, managed to control those diseases and eliminate their causes. Due to the availability of potable water, adequate food and nutrition to their citizens, diseases like cholera and TB are no longer problems for these nations. Healthy lifestyles and robust healthcare systems are an added advantage. Even malaria and AIDS are no longer major problems for these nations. But they are scared of the diseases that they cannot control.
SARS and COVID 19 strike fear in their hearts because they have no way of combating them. As Western countries dominate the world, their priorities become global priorities.
No wonder COVID has been proclaimed as a danger for everyone. Once the West manages to come out with a vaccine or a cure for COVID, they would be least concerned about who contracts this disease and who dies of it….COVID is now an affliction of America and Europe. Till it was causing deaths in China, it was of little consequence to them.”
Why are we not asking the question as to why this problem of the European and American nations has been thrust upon us? Isn’t it odd that while the action is being taken against those spreading so-called ‘infodemic’ on social media, the media organizations that selectively publish what the WHO says are being spared?
For the past four months, WHO is holding daily press briefings on COVID 19. The event is held online. Sitting at their Geneva (Switzerland) headquarters, WHO officials answer the questions from journalists all over the world. The briefings are beamed on various social media platforms of the organisation. On the occasions when WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at these briefings, our media organisations reported it in detail with unconcealed glee.
On March 30, an Indian journalist (his name could not be heard clearly due to network issues) told WHO officials,
“You must be aware that India, as part of its lockdown, is witnessing (an) unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the form of the movement of migrants from one part of the country to another. I do understand that you do not like commenting on individual countries, but this is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. What would be your advice to our government?”
That was the period when reports and visuals of what the hapless poor migrant labourers were going through was sending waves of shock and dismay through the country. Lakhs of labourers, including children, old men and women (many of whom were pregnant), had begun trekking to their homes thousands of miles away. Borders of states were being sealed to stop them. Thousands of people wanted to travel to their native villages from different cities but the police used force on them. It seemed as if the country was on the verge of a civil war.
WHO officials could not resist answering the question about this migration. It’s Executive Director Michael J. Ryan supported the imposition of lockdown but also said that it could be strict or lenient depending on the specific needs of a country and that the human rights of the people should be respected under all circumstances. After Ryan’s reply, Dr Tedros said in an emotional tone, “I am from Africa and I know many people actually have to work every single day to win their daily bread. Governments should take this population into account… I come from a poor family and I know what it means to always worry about your daily bread and that has to be taken into account. We’re not seeing it as an economic impact on a country (or) as GDP loss. We have to also see what it means to the individual in the street… it’s not about India; it’s about any country on earth.” Indian media did not give any space to this opinion of the WHO.
But after this statement, the Government of India got cracking and the WHO was pressurized to refer to the steps taken by the government to mitigate the economic problems facing the people due to the lockdown.
Resultantly, at its press briefing on April 1 2020, WHO chief Dr Tedros referred to the relief package announced by the government – full five days after its announcement on March 26.
“Prime Minister Modi has announced a $24 billion US dollars package, including free food rations for 800 million disadvantaged people, cash transfers to 204 million poor women, and free cooking gas for 80 million households for the next 3 months.”
In answer to a question by India Today’s Ankit Kumar, Michael Ryan said that it would be a little early to assess the results of the lockdown in India but “it has made a really huge attempt to limit the impact of the shutdowns on the people who are most at risk”.
The next day, all the Hindi-English news platforms prominently carried the story that the WHO has showered praises on Prime Minister Modi and appreciated the steps taken by him to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Many news channels, while reporting the WHO statement, also said that
“PM Modi and a team of specialists are working without a break for containing coronavirus. The PM has announced the 21-day lockdown at the advice of the team. The PM is working for 17-18 hours every day. Even the WHO has praised India and PM Modi for their campaign against corona.”
The same media outlets had refrained from publishing the advice of WHO asking the countries to protect the human rights of the people.
After lockdown ruining the economies of many countries, the WHO is now saying that it had never advised lockdowns!
Our government miserably failed to assess the impact of lockdown on a country like India with its vast population of poor people, most of whom are daily wage earners. Then, what is the guarantee that its other directives are well thought out and efficacious?
Countries like Sweden, Japan, Tanzania, Belarus, Nicaragua and Yemen either did not go for lockdown at all or imposed restrictions that had the least impact on the liberty of the people. Why India did not tread this path?
Why are we not asking that when many countries haven’t made wearing of face masks compulsory and when there is no evidence to indicate that not using masks would lead to a faster spread of the disease, then on what ‘scientific grounds’ has our government made wearing masks mandatory for the people. Is the coronavirus a nocturnal organism? If not, why has our government imposed night curfew? Shouldn’t we ask the government to come out with the scientific basis of its decision? Why does the government want that the people should continue to cringe in fear? Are we living in a nanny state?
You say that you cannot bank on the people of India, who are illiterate, illogical and anarchic. They are not civilized like the Europeans are. But what evidence do you have to support this view? Isn’t it true that the people had significantly curtailed their visits to public places even before the countrywide lockdown was put in place? Is it not true that hundreds of trains had to be cancelled for want of passengers? Wasn’t this ample proof that people of India are disciplined and reasonable? Then, where was the need to crush them under a draconian lockdown?
We should definitely ask under which law has our basic right to know the truth been abrogated.
Why are we not asking what relationship does Indian Council of Medical Research have with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation?
On 10 April 2020, Ben Parker, editor and co-founder of The New Humanitarian, a Switzerland-based website asked a question during the WHO briefing on COVID 19. The question was about Bill Gates. The alacrity with which WHO officials answered the question was, of course, worth taking note of. But more importantly, the questioner’s credentials indicate how stories favouring Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are being planted in the media.
Bill Parker asked, “We’re seeing a lot of rumours and conspiracy theories around the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, vaccines and a digital identity project called ID 2020. My question is, are you tracking the new ingredients in the misinformation out there?”
Answering the question, Michael Ryan said that they were very pleased with the support Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had given to them and would look into the platforms that Parker mentioned. He added that the WHO was working with a number of digital companies to counter misinformation.
Dr Tedros, in a detailed answer to the question, showered fulsome praises on Gates. He said, “I have known Bill and Melinda for many, many years now….these two human beings are amazing….Having people like Bill and Melinda with big hearts to support humanity is something we should cherish. I would like to assure you during this COVID situation (that) their support is really big and we’re getting all the support we need. Together we believe we can turn the tide….The world recognises their contribution and they deserve our respect and appreciation.”
A Google search on the questioner Ben Parker reveals that his The New Humanitarian which “puts quality, independent journalism at the service of the millions of people affected by humanitarian crises around the world” is, mainly financed by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is its biggest donor. In return for it, Ben Parker is busy ‘fact-checking’ on various platforms right from Twitter to his website. Not surprisingly, his so-called fact-checking always shows the Gates’ in a favourable light.
In India too, amid this so-called epidemic, many ‘fact-checking’ institutions financed by foreign sources have sprung up. We should ask ourselves why untruths and half-truths, masquerading as ‘facts’, are floating on social media. Is only the government responsible for it or are we ourselves signing away our freedom –and voluntarily accepting slavery?
By PRAMOD RANJAN
Translated by : E. News
[Pramod Ranjan’s interests lie in subaltern studies and development of modernity. Sahityetihas Ka Bahujan Paksha, Bahujan Sahitya Ki Prastavna, Mahishasur: Mithak Evam Paramparayein and Shimla Diary are among the books penned by him. ]