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From life to death: denying dignity

The news of dead bodies washing up on the shores of river Ganga were the latest in a series of horrific news that came from India. Confined to our homes, the air outside seems heavy with the collective weight of grief and loss. As I take a step away from feigning normalcy, the monstrosity of everything happening outside my window seems dystopian and unreal. Like many other middle-class families, the severity of the pandemic dawned late on me last year after the short-lived family honeymoon and dalgona coffee phase.

Amidst the images of migrant workers trekking home and people scrambling to find treatment for their families, the tragedy unfolding every day seemed to only worsen. Requests for help were flooding through all quarters and volunteers were at work everywhere to cater to the necessities. An apathetic central government facilitated COVID deaths by further communalising this virus and making a mockery of an entire nation’s lives. Human compassion was absent in every one of their actions, and people were being denied dignity even in their death. The lockdown only intensified the state’s crackdown on press freedom and human rights.

The sense of helplessness I experienced in these months is something I will never forget. With regular bouts of depression and increasing anxiety attacks, I realized that all of us were holding onto a fragile sense of unity. Though everyone seemed to claim ‘We are in this together’, it was easy to understand that we weren’t. Our lives had very different values attached to them. I saw people don their superhero capes trying to do their bit but any volunteering work I participated in seemed useless amidst the chaos we were in. The huge sense of guilt, uselessness, and utter hopelessness I experienced cannot be put into words. The worst was the sense of relief that flooded me every time I heard bad news knowing that I was safe. At least for now.

©Reuters / Adnan Abidi

As I write this, trying my hardest to sort through the mess of feelings, the powerlessness we collectively experienced never fails to shock me. The privilege that I enjoyed continued to haunt me as I saw human lives being voluntarily offered to death by a fascist government. Unfortunately, none of this is in the past. We are anticipating a worse year and people have slipped back to their routines of being caretakers, frontline workers, and volunteers. India is gasping for breath and every other day we hear of more deaths among family and friends. It seems impossible to wake up every morning anticipating the worst, but that’s what we have been doing every day since March 2020.

Hoping for restoration of normalcy is a pipe dream which is best forgotten. Only one thing seems clearer - that we are not healing. We are not becoming better. The wounds created last year will forever remain a part of me. I don’t want to heal the wound either. It needs to remain with me as my voice of reason to stay rooted in my principles regardless of who decides to shut me up. I want to remember and hold on to that sense of despair and powerlessness so I always have the reason to not give up. To remind myself of the value of human life regardless of the identities that define them. This wound has put much in perspective and we need it to hold on to the idea of India that we began with.

Sivakami Prasanna (she/her) is part of تحریر // Tehreer, a 6-month writing group housed within The Rights Collective which supports writers who identify as South Asian to develop their own voices in writing about social justice.

Article co-edited by Huma Riaz Khan (she/her), Lead for the تحریر // Tehreer 2021.

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