Nihonjinron – a Japanese term, which loosely translated, means ‘Japanese Identity’ which is characterised by an overwhelming sense (amongst the Japanese people) for ensuring collective welfare of each other, where group welfare is paramount and not the individual citizen. This spirit of the Japanese people, coupled with economic policies, led to the spectacular reconstruction of post-war Japan, so much so that a war-ravaged Japan went on to become the second-largest economy between 1945 to 1991. The Japanese sense of sacrifice for the greater well being of the community was starkly on display even during World War II when Japanese fighter pilots dived their planes into incoming enemy warships in an attempt to blow them up – ‘Kamikaze’ as they were known derived their name from “Kami Kaze” (divine wind) and indeed they were, constantly making the supreme sacrifice for their country.
India’s Constitution, when originally adopted in the year 1950, did not have any threads running through it which imposed any duties on citizens. The change came about by way of a constitutional amendment in the year 1976 when Article 51A was inserted by the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976. The enactment of such a provision subsequently is telling, as the framers of our Constitution did not think it necessary at all to incorporate any fundamental duties for citizens in the belief that citizens necessarily would work towards a collective common good.
Unfortunately, the COVID Pandemic has brought to fore our collective failure as ‘Citizens’ in this time of national need to look after each other and help each other to ensure that India emerges stronger from this pandemic state. It is perhaps time to take stock of citizens being given unfettered rights, without having correspondingly enforceable duties.
While announcing a National Lock-Down, the Prime Minister made an appeal to each one of us to make a sacrifice in the national interest. The Prime Minister has thereafter reached out to each one of us numerous times beseeching us to help him in fighting the pandemic by adopting various measures viz. stay put wherever one was, cooperate with the Government and health authorities, adopt strict social distancing norms, disclose travel history, etc. The Prime Minister has also attempted bringing forth civic nationalism in his own way by asking us to celebrate efforts of health workers, light symbolic lamps to fight the forces of darkness, pay cuts, etc.
However, instead of the awakening a sense of community, civic nationalism and the feeling of sacrifice necessary to deliver India from this pandemic, the citizens, sorry to say have fallen woefully short of expectations. For instance, mass weddings and other social gatherings have been organised during the lock-down period; attempts at mass migration of daily wagers, contractors and their employers having abandoned them for narrow profits, citizens have criticised attempts of the Prime Minister to bring out collective civic nationalism; social distancing norms have been given a go by and religious congregations have been organised. Not just the individual citizen, even State Governments have not spared the Prime Minister’s efforts. Thus, we have had buses organised to get sections of residents of a particular State back during lockdown, Central Government teams have not been extended full cooperation while visiting States, passes have been issued to the rich and powerful to travel for their own selfish reasons, all in disregard of the lockdown.
What, however, is most distressing are news reports of attacks on health workers, refusal to let them reside amongst us, targeting them even when they die in the line of duty by refusing to have them cremated in particular areas. This led to the President acting on the advice of the Union Cabinet to exercise extraordinary powers under Article 123 of the Constitution to promulgate an ordinance on 22 April 2020 to amend The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 which imposes harsh fines and punishment for targeting and attacks on health workers. The official press release of the Press Information Bureau sets out the necessity of the ordinance in the following words:
“….However, Covid-19 outbreak has posed a unique situation where harassment of the healthcare workforce and others working to contain the spread of the disease has been taking place at all fronts, in various places including even cremation grounds. The existing state laws do not have such a wide sweep and ambit. They generally do not cover harassment at home and workplace and are focused more on physical violence only. The penal provisions contained in these laws are not stringent enough to deter mischief mongering….
…..The health workforce are our frontline soldiers in battling the spread of Covid-19. They put their own lives at risk in order to ensure safety of others. They deserve our highest respect and encouragement at this moment rather than being harassed or being subjected to violence. It is hoped that this Ordinance will have the impact of infusing confidence in the community of healthcare service personnel so that they can continue to contribute to serving mankind through their noble professions in the extremely difficult circumstances being witnessed during the current Covid-19 outbreak….”
It should shock each one of us to the core of our being, that faced with a pandemic, each one of us has failed India. We have let things come to such a pass that the Central Government has had to resort to an Ordinance with the avowed object of protecting our foot-soldiers in this unequal fight. Instead of citizens zealously protecting each one of these health workers and ensuring their wellbeing and safety we are targeting them at all possible levels. Citizens of this great country must remember the wise words of Cicero (106 B.C.-43 B.C) - “In nothing do men more nearly approach the gods than in giving health to men."
It is time we cease to expect everything from the Government and take responsibility for the country by taking responsibility for our actions. Whatever be our political leanings and differences, during a national health emergency each one of us has to support the other fully. It is only then that the idea of India shall survive intact as it has done for centuries.
Let us ponder over how to redeem William James “Will” Durant the American Philosopher’s description of India “It is true that even across the Himalayan barrier India has sent to us such unquestionable gifts as grammar and logic, philosophy and fables, hypnotism and chess, and above all our numerals and our decimal system. But these are not the essence of her spirit; they are trifles compared to what we may learn from her in the future.” This is the time for us individually to take care of the collective and make India the beacon of light that the world is desperately searching for.
Author of this article, Abhinav Mukerji is an Advocate-on-Record practising before the Supreme Court of India and is the Additional Advocate General in the Supreme Court for the State of Himachal Pradesh.
(The views and opinions expressed within the article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing do not reflect the views of Republic TV/ Republic World/ ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd.)