Social distancing versus physical distancing vis-à-vis Dr Ambedkar’s narrative

Experts have suggested that ‘social distancing’ with other individuals is the only way out to prevent the present and the persistent danger of Covid-19. Albeit, it came out as a preventive measure yet both the Union government and the experts have shunned the deeper magnitude of distancing caused by ‘social isolation’ and ‘social nausea’.

With COVID induced ‘Social Distancing’. Have we, coincidently, promoted an unequal social order?

Beyond a doubt, Dr. Ambedkar was one of the vital head and a proponent for establishing the democratic essence in India. Ambedkar’s contribution to protect the nation’s integrity has always stood out from the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, and other luminaries, primarily because of his background, and the entrenched caste – system that he fought against. According to him, the notion of an ideal democracy must be concomitant with elements like equality, fraternity, liberty, and other principles of life. In his eloquent thoughts, aforesaid principles form a union of trinity in a sense that to disassociate one from the other would defeat the purpose of an exemplary democracy. He cautiously focused upon the principle of fraternity, which essentially means common brotherhood of all Indians, the reason for later inclusion of this term in the preamble was to ensure that no man should practice tyranny against his fellow beings in society for striving to become successful over one another. His scrupulous analysis on the issue of the caste system in India identified the snag of separation in the social life of the people, which made him construct the statement – “CASTES ARE ANTI- NATIONAL”; as it intends to develop the feeling of resentment and aversion among different castes.

The present times unarguably suggest for the showcase of social harmony among the individuals; yet rampant and deplorable caste-related monstrosities were reported in the country. The incident took place in Haryana where a Dalit family was attacked merely for not following the PM’s call to turn off the lights, the catalogue doesn’t end here; a breathtaking video gained many sights on the internet as it covered caste-related asperse and assault on a Dalit couple who refused to sell their land which lawfully belonged to them.

Covid-19 has certainly rekindled the debate of the relevance of Dr. Ambedkar’s teachings and principles by the colossal push to the notion of ‘Social Distancing’. A couple of months ago, many migrant workers were witnessed marching down-heartedly towards their home due to inadequate transport facilities. Subsequently, some reports disclosed that nearly 30 migrants died on their way home. Of course, very often we get to hear inciting stories of people ensuring basic facilities to the strangers, yet it is the collective sociopolitical response towards the marginalized section of the society which has resulted in distorting the Ambedkarite framework.

Experts have suggested that “Social Distancing” with other individuals is the only way out to prevent the present and the persistent danger of COVID–19. Albeit, it came out as a preventive measure yet both the union government and the experts have shunned the deeper magnitude of distancing caused by ‘social isolation’ and ‘social nausea’, the two notions used by B.R. Ambedkar, to depict the plight of the weaker and marginalized sections of the society. Thankfully, the WHO (World Health Organization) acknowledged the din of the depressed classes from all over the world, and the term ‘Social Distancing’ got replaced with ‘Physical Distancing’. This sandstorm has thus left all of us with certain imperative questions- Why do policymakers often forget to pay heed to the well-being of the majority population before imposing their drastic decisions? How much heed has been paid upon the chronic distance between the caste/classes and the blindness of policymakers concerning the weaker sections of the society?

In order to find the solution, we have to first fathom the structure of the society we are living in, I venture to say here that there is no nation that can challenge the cultural unity of India. The roots of this unity are not only confined to geographic unity, but it has over and above all, a much rooted fundamental unity. This indubitable cultural unity in India is perhaps one major problem that has tangibly contributed towards the rise of the hornet- nest of castes, classes, and religion. In the traditional Hindu system, the ‘idea of pollution’ has been considered as an integral and entrenched part of the inflexible caste-system. In this context, Dr. Ambedkar remarked that ‘priest’ and ‘purity’ are the oldest associates of caste and he eloquently concluded that the ‘idea of pollution’ is an attribute of caste only to the extent that caste has “religious flavor”. The pandemic has revealed that in India, minds are caste-trained; it is believed that germs are not the actual carriers of the disease but rather it is the ‘unclean human beings’. Uncleanliness here means ‘ritual purity’; a facet that bothers all the casteist in the country.

It would be suitable to say that caste rests on belief, but belief is just a mere piece of stone that has been placed in the institution, the institution itself needs to be demolished and forfeited. In the present times, what we have forgotten is the dogmas that were laid in an undelivered speech of Dr. Ambedkar “The Annihilation of Caste”. In this piece, he expounded what was erroneous in the Hindu caste system, and what measures should be adopted to create an equal and fair social order.

Admittedly, weaving the fabric of social order cannot be confined in the realm of government alone. It is where the role of social activists, political parties, and individuals should be brought to guard the caste-related monstrosities in everyday life. Mandating ‘Annihilation of Caste’ a compulsory reading in the textbooks perhaps can be of help in maintaining the social order. Can PM Modi take a moment in ‘Mann Ki Baat’ and make an appeal to all the citizens to destroy the feudal practice of separation from birth on the basis of caste? Can an appeal be made to the public at large to promote ‘social interaction’ whilst maintaining ‘physical distancing ’?

While we unitedly continue to fight Covid-19, it is the time to re-build – India of Ambedkar’s dream.

“Imitation is easy and invention is difficult!”

– Dr. B.R. Ambedkar