The latest episode of Michelle Obama’s eponymous podcast titled ‘Protests and the Pandemic’ featuring journalist and her close friend Michelle Norris debuted recently. Obama revealed that she is suffering from “some form of low-grade depression”, which does not necessarily come as a shock during a global pandemic, for better or worse we all had to slow down and face certain uncomfortable questions. The disparities that have existed in our society along economic, religious, and racial lines are being held up to our faces, and we don’t have the veil of everyday responsibilities to hide under. The ill-treatment of migrant population, raging unemployment, non-payment of essential workers, police brutality, racial injustice has always been a part and parcel of our lives but right now with the great pause, locked in our homes with the chaos unfolding on our television screens we are in a way trapped in a hell of our own making, and that’s pushing us to consider the way we have lived and voted till now, and whether or not it needs to change.

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Everybody while trying to abide by social distancing norms have had to contain themselves within the four corners of their homes and this has without a doubt affected our mental well being. Jobs and relationships went digital and weekends were all wide open, even the ones who weren’t directly affected by the pandemic did feel the weight of it in full force. The people who live on the periphery of our cities, whom we do not spare much thought to, became front and centre, and it got us thinking about the lack of regard we have for them. Universal basic income is not a thing in this country and neither is Social Security or affordable healthcare. India has a surplus of capable labour and no labour regulations; this is something most of us haven’t even considered while voting. As decorated as essential workers are they are not definitely not paid their dues, as Michelle Obama puts it,“That is, if they were to get sick, as essential as they are, we have not, as a society, deemed it essential to make sure that they can go to the doctor and get the care that they need”.

Obama and Norris also brought up the issue of populism that is ailing many countries world over. Leaders are putting more faith in popular sentiments rather than the greater good. Since populism comes from the majority it is easy to mould public policy along majoritarian lines because it guarantees more votes. It is not easy telling the majority that they must sacrifice what they consider their birthright for the betterment of the beleaguered. However, policies that have come to people’s aid during this pandemic, be it the Public Distribution System, MGNREGA, stimulus payments, free public school lunches, “all the things that we look to cut, were put in place in response to some crisis”, as Obama rightfully points out.

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Every single day we are waking up to issues that we thought had been conquered. India is still a global leader in Tuberculosis, only half of all of public school children in Std V after more than four years of schooling can read a Std II level text fluently, impoverished children migrate to other states looking for a livelihood even though education is meant to cost next to nothing. All such news that never made it to our television screens and rarely made it to the front page are confronting us, challenging us to do better for things simply cannot continue the way they were. Keeping in sync with Norris’s sober realisation the great pause does indeed need to become the great recalibration.

The views expressed are the author’s own and not of SheThePeople.

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