Don’t criminalise distress, it speaks the larger truth

If struggling with sickness wasn’t enough, criminalisation of SOS calls through social media for oxygen, beds etc and the seizure of oxygen cylinders and drugs like remdesivir from patients have shaken us all. This is akin to demanding from citizens a passive acceptance of their destinies. Thankfully, Supreme Court and Delhi high court have called out this frittering away of the state’s energies in policing cries for help and attempts at self-help. Instead, the state must train all its attention on expanding healthcare capacity.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan has said that adequate oxygen is available and people don’t need to rush to hospitals in panic. But then make this oxygen available for patients in home-care and at hospitals. Citizens are panicked precisely because there is a struggle to secure oxygen. Venting one’s frustration is natural under these trying circumstances. For the government worried about a “one-sided” narrative, it must reassure itself that the narrative will change when the ground situation improves. An Indian diplomat’s rejoinder to an Australian newspaper criticising PM Modi boomeranged badly; desist from more such misadventures.

News media reports allow domestic and foreign governments to grasp the big picture of the devastation and respond appropriately, as world nations are now doing with help beginning to pour in. Newspapers are publishing fact-checked information and images of crematoriums and hospitals are the harsh reality to be recognised, accepted and remedied. Hiding reality may or may not mitigate the public pressure but would definitely deny help to lakhs of families. Recognise too that many not adept at using social media and amplifying their voices are being missed. Valuing every cry for help sends the right signals to society at large. UP CM Adityanath, who threatened the draconian NSA on those spreading ‘rumours’ of oxygen shortages, should also heed SC’s directions.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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