The immigrants , unknown entrepreneurs, faceless health care workers, stout farmers – in whose praise songs must be sung.
This is not the year of a Hero or a Heroine, an annual ritual when a person of the year is named. Nor is this a time to announce the top personalities or influencers and celebrities of 2020 – a customary rating circus at the end of each year carried out by many media houses who thrust them on the public. The politician who transformed society, the corporate honcho who grew richer, the tech czar who changed the way we live, the incredible sports person who inspired the rest of us, the social activist who led the protests, the actor who mesmerised the audiences – none deserve accolades nor are they of any real significance in 2020 the year many are calling annus horribilis – the year of disasters.
On the world stage two people come to mind. A couple, scientists Dr Ugur Sahil and his wife Dr Ozlem Tureci, born to Turkish Muslim immigrants working in Germany, silently behind the scenes as a team, who pioneered the research and development of the Covid-19 vaccine in partnership with their company BioNTech and Pfizer Laboratories , the first to have received approval in the US and a few other countries, where they are already jabbing arms and vaccinations are in progress. What a great testimony to the truth that science and love can always triumph to unite and save humanity, transcending ideologies, race, color, ethnicity and religious bigotry, divisiveness, violence and killings. There can not be better icons to emulate than these two researchers working steadfastly, shunning publicity, in their single minded devotion and pursuit to save human lives.
But here among us the in India our true heroes this past year are our uprooted voiceless immigrants, the countless small businesses, mom and pop stores, roadside vendors who offer myriad products and services of every kind – carpenters, masons, electricians, technicians, cooks, security guards, taxi drivers, salons and spas, vegetable and fruit sellers and Chai walas on push carts, and innumerable trades people who have kept us , the more fortunate urban dwellers, well provided for, happy and warm. Can we ever forget along side them the lakhs of selfless and faceless healthcare workers obscured by masks, from cleaners to nurses and doctors who put their own life at risk to save us, despite formidable challenges and immense resource crunch. And most of all we have to remember our stoic, stout, hardy, hearty farmers who are now sitting in protest on the outskirts of Delhi, braving the harsh bitter winter of North India, they who have toiled all year supplying us grains, milk, meat, fruits and vegetables and cotton and silk for clothing, plodding and ploughing through the vicissitudes of monsoon weather and other calamities.
Those millions staying resiliently in the shadows are the warp and woof of our society. This free flow and migration in such large numbers seeking jobs and opportunities , a migration phenomenon in every social strata – including doctors, engineers, varied professionals and entrepreneurs – crisscrossing the length and breadth of the country, from one state to another, is the true validation of our vibrant economy and affirmation of our multi ethnic and diverse society. They are the very spirit and heartbeat of India. Beneath all our chaos and confusion and mad disorder there’s a vibrant shadow economy, which somehow miraculously keeps buzzing and ticking. Our agriculture today during sowing and harvest depends on migrant workers. All these are the sinews and backbone of the visible organised economy both rural and urban which will collapse without them.
Those are our unsung heroes. This is not the occasion for inane new year celebrations. This is the time to celebrate our forgotten and neglected heroes and sing songs of praise in their honour and pay our obeisance to them. This is also the time to pay our homage to those who lost their loved ones to the Covid virus and pay tribute those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods because of the pandemic and are some how surviving and eking out a living. This is a time to reflect how to unite and heal a highly polarised society, and bring back into the mainstream those who feel alienated from the nation – from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Dwaraka to Dhimapur. Youth, dalits, minorities, activists and left leaning intellectuals, intrepid journalists and academics are frequently at loggerheads with the governments defying oppressive measures – both at the Centre and states- over political, religious and ideological differences. They are accusing governments of abusing their powers by charging those who dissent under acts of sedition. Many of these laws are anachronistic going back to British times when they ruled India. And more were added during Congress rule, with BJP going still further in making them more stringent than the extant laws. Many are in jail without trial. And Kashmiris are unhappy. We have to get them back into the fold so that blood letting stops and peace reigns. We have two inimical nations watching our internal issues, especially in our border states and our international borders are on high alert. This is the time to unite. “A house divided against itself can not stand. ”
We have to believe happy days will come in 2021 – happy days that will bring back travel, touch, hugs , kisses , bonhomie, cheer, laughter and togetherness. And most of all ‘hope’, the invisible fuel of the economy and hope the very sustenance of life itself. Those jobs and better days will return if we hang in there together in solidarity with all, rising above our differences.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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