The Telegraph – Home alone: The cultural anxiety about solitariness

Coronasur, Conrad and civilisation’s oldest and deepest paranoia: the fear of isolation

Uddalak Mukherjee

Op/Ed, 25 March 2020. Earlier this month, Mumbai ushered in Holi in a peculiar way. Coronasur, a symbolic effigy of Covid-19 which, the WHO says with good reason, is now a global health emergency, was consigned to the flames on the occasion of Holika Dahan in that city.

Delhi, however, chose to be different, fighting the contagion with fluid, not flames. The Hindu Mahasabha poured gaumutra down the throats of the faithful to appease the virus-demon.

The elevation of a virus to the stature of a mythical, malevolent figure in 21st-century India chimes well with a nation that has chosen for prime minister a man who has unshakeable belief in Ancient India’s monopoly on cosmetic surgery.

But the fear of Coronasur is not unwarranted; the pathogen has infected more than 383,944 people around the world, killing at least 16,595 among them. The planet, however, has survived worse.

Between 75-200 million people perished during the Bubonic plague in the Middle Ages; influenza snuffed out around 50 million lives a little over one hundred years ago; tuberculosis, diarrhoea, cardiac conditions and cancer cull great many humans even today.

What has made the coronavirus singular, though, is its ability to stoke interest, plebeian and intellectual, in one of civilization’s oldest, deepest paranoias, the fear of isolation.

The transformation of eremophobia, the fear of being alone, into a mass phenomenon has been augmented by the lockdowns, or social distancing if you will, that governments, in Italy, Spain, England, the United States of America and, now, India, have implemented as policy.

Enforced periods of isolation and restricted access to public spaces, it is being hoped, would halt the march of the infection. The consequences of this besiegement have been varied, but instructive. Bengal became the 14th state in India to invoke the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 to prevent patients or those under surveillance from fleeing isolation wards.

New York Magazine, meanwhile, interviewed Carlo, a Florentine, who, too, spoke of fear while looking at his deserted, lonely city as well as of the sadness that he felt when he heard, in the course of a telephone conversation with a friend, the sounds of the street, the rumble of traffic, the low hum of human voices and the melody of music, in faraway Vancouver.

There is a touch of the Conradian horror about Carlo’s dread of isolation, even though he, unlike some of Joseph Conrad’s flawed men, Almayer (Almayer’s Folly) and Kurtz (Heart of Darkness) come readily to mind, has not been banished to an outpost of civilization.

Civilization, in fact, seems to have been transformed into an isolated outpost, turning Carlo into one of Conrad’s ‘solitaries’, psychologically scarred, spiritually wounded beings, consumed slowly by the terror of the unfamiliar, the unknown.

But eremophobia has not been the only consequence of our fallibility in our confrontations with incognita. The moral quandaries of isolation-estrangement-loneliness and its impact on the body politic of a nation have led to cerebral pursuits that have often yielded remarkable inferences.

For instance, the purest kind of loneliness born of some forms of isolation, Hannah Arendt argued in her seminal work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, stems from the loss of the ability to empathize, to hold a dialogue with the self, a failure that led the fictional Kurtz, and could lead socially isolated Carlo, to conclude that they are outcasts from the human commonality.

This rootlessness, the persistent sense of unbelonging, Arendt argues, was complemented by the hollowness of modernity and, eventually, crystallized in a great contemporary peril, the now all-pervasive condition that has stripped societies of the energy and the imagination to reflect on, and appreciate, the ambiguities of reality.

The resultant attraction for simple, the Final? solution for complex problems, for binaries, Us versus Them, augments the genesis of the totalitarian ethic.

Public unwillingness to engage with nuanced thinking, with the complex history of the Republic, has been discernible in Narendra Modi’s India too. The consequences are revealing. Take the case of the massive endorsement of the revocation of Article 370.

That Kashmir’s ‘special’ status, apparently inimical to the spirit of national integration, is not quite an aberration, Article 371F vests Sikkim with similar special provisos; Nagaland’s customs, land and resources are inoculated against encroachment by Article 371A; the inner-line permit for the Northeast stems from the need to protect indigenous interests, eludes a nation that is being taught to hate, what Nabeelah Jaffer, writing in Aeon, says is ‘two-sided thinking’, “the kind of thought that involves weighing competing imperatives and empathising with a range of people”.

And Kashmir has been punished for its rights.

Interestingly, the punishment chosen was an extreme, unwarranted form of isolation. 05 August onwards, India put Kashmir in lockdown, almost the kind that the coronavirus has now forced upon the nation.

The heavy deployment of boots on the ground, the paralysing of communication networks and the incarceration of the state’s political leadership were some of the special provisions of the social distancing that Kashmir, unlike India, was made to endure.

The State’s weaponization of isolation, be it for Kashmiris, the Uighurs interned in China, or, earlier, for the ones who perished in the Siberian labour camps, is contingent upon the preservation of the cultural anxiety about solitariness.

Coronavirus is not merely a yet-to-be-resolved health affliction. It is also a stubborn stain, emblematic of humanity’s failure to master isolation, the kind that metastasizes within and without. – Foreigners stuck in Amritsar facing problems in getting accommodation as SGPC and Hotels close doors

Sikh24 Editors

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 24 March 2020. The foreign devotees, who arrived in Punjab during the last few days, are facing a lot of problems due to lockdown imposed in Punjab because of corona-virus.

An American, who has joined Sikh religion recently, faced problem in getting shelter after the SGPC expelled him from the guest house. He is also not able to book room in any hotel because he is a foreigner.

Gurdhian Singh, a baptized American Sikh, informed that he was staying in the guest house of Sri Darbar Sahib at Amritsar from the last two days but the management of the guest house asked him to leave the room forcefully on 22 March and local hotels are also not providing him room on rent due to fear of corona virus because he is a foreigner.

He claimed that he is healthy and ready to be tested for corona virus.

On being contacted by the media, an SGPC official said that if health department gives him a fitness certificate then they are ready to allot him room in the guest house of Sri Darbar Sahib.

Later, he was sent for test in civil hospital late night on March 22 by the Police.

Foreigners stuck in Amritsar facing problems in getting accommodation as SGPC and Hotels close doors

Gent: Citadelpark – Gent-Sint-Pieters – Duivelsteen/De Reep

16 February 2020

Green leaves and flowers, it must be spring !

De Lijn Trams
16 February 2020

Tram stop for Tram 2 to Melle Leeuw and Tram 4 to Ledeberg

Duivelsteen – De Reep
21 February 2020

Tram stop Duivelsteen for Tram 4 to/from Ledeberg

Duivelsteen along the Reep

De Reep

Minard – Schouwburg
22 February 2020

Romain Deconinck, in front of ‘his’ Minard

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

The Tribune – Punjab sinking deeper into morass

The depletion of the water table in Punjab started back in the 1970s

Vishav Bharti

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 23 March 2020. Punjab is extracting water from the ground at the highest speed in the country. If the practice goes on unabated, the state will be rendered a desert in the next two decades.

Numerous studies in the past three decades have warned of such a disaster, but it seems nothing has roused successive governments to take decisive action. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report on Punjab’s groundwater is the latest addition to a series of damning reports on the subject.

Groundwater extraction has increased from 149 per cent of the total recharge in 2013 to 165 per cent in 2018. Just 60 per cent of Punjab’s groundwater is fit for use and around 85 per cent of the area falls in the over-exploited or critical category.

A report, ‘Groundwater Resources of Punjab’, prepared by the Central Groundwater Board and the state’s Water Resources & Environment Directorate, found that of the 138 blocks assessed, 109 (79 per cent) were over-exploited; 3 per cent critical; 2 per cent semi-critical. Just 16 per cent were in the safe category.

In 1989, just 52 per cent of the blocks were categorised as over-exploited.

The depletion of the water table is not a new phenomenon. It started in the 1970s with the cultivation of paddy in the state. It was the time when the state started shifting to tubewell irrigation from canal irrigation. Now, 71 per cent of the net irrigated area is under tubewell irrigation, using groundwater, and in only 29 per cent canal water is being used.

As per the report, between June 1984 and June 2016, 37 per cent of the area in Punjab witnessed a fall of up to 10 metres in the groundwater table. During this period, groundwater in 48 per cent of the area fell by more than 10 metres. In the remaining about 15 per cent of the area, the groundwater level had risen.

The report has noted that the continuous practice of monoculture of sowing paddy, along with free power for extracting groundwater to irrigate paddy fields, leads to a decrease in groundwater availability in the state.

The CAG has noted that paddy sowing is the main culprit. As per CAG, 97 per cent of the extracted groundwater was being used for irrigation purposes and the rest for domestic and industrial use.

With a view to regulate and control the extraction and management of groundwater, the Centre, from time to time, came up with a Model Bill. But the CAG observed that no effort was made by the state to enact an Act to control the use of groundwater.

The CAG noted that Punjab has the maximum percentage of wells showing depletion in groundwater among the top 10 worst-affected states in the pre-monsoon water level data 2018 when compared with the decadal average (2008-2017). Punjab tops the chart with 84 per cent of the wells showing depletion.

Water-guzzling paddy

The CAG report found that despite enactment of The Punjab Preservation of Sub Soil Water Act, 2009, to prohibit sowing nursery of paddy and transplantation paddy before notified dates, agriculture continued to be dominated by paddy (a water-intensive crop) and wheat monoculture in Punjab, leading to overexploitation of water resources.

In addition to the surface water fed through the canal system, there was an increasing pressure on the groundwater resources which are being overexploited to meet needs of intensive irrigation.

Figure it out :

  • During 2012-16, the net annual groundwater recharge decreased by8 per cent as compared to 2008-12
  • Groundwater extraction increased by 3 per cent in the same period
  • The number of electricity-operated tubewells increased by 84 per cent from 7.5 lakh in 1996-97 to 13.36 lakh in 2017-18
  • Subsidy to meet the expense for providing free power to agriculture in 2017-18 was Rs 6,578 crore — 94 per cent of total subsidies and 11 per cent of state’s total revenue expenditure
  • 10 per cent of the groundwater was unsafe for any purpose and 30 per cent was marginally to moderately saline/alkaline

The Print – Delhi Police clears Shaheen Bagh protest site amid coronavirus threat

Shaheen Bagh had become the heart of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests since 15 December last year, days after the law was passed by Parliament.

Fatima Khan

New Delhi – India, 24 March 2020. The Delhi Police cleared the Shaheen Bagh protest site early Tuesday, two days after Section 144 was imposed in the national capital due to the widening corona-virus outbreak.

Shaheen Bagh had become the heart of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests since women from the area launched their agitation on 15 December last year, days after the contentious law was passed by Parliament.

“The protest site was cleared around 7 am Tuesday. There were five women who were sitting in the protest last night. In the morning, we were told they have been removed,” Khurshid Alam, one of the protest organisers, told ThePrint.

The Delhi Police reportedly also removed tents that marked the site.

“People at the protest site in Shaheen Bagh were requested today to clear the site as lockdown has been imposed. But after they refused, action was taken against violators as the assembly was unlawful.

Protest site has been cleared. Some protestors have been detained,” the southeast deputy commissioner of police told ANI.

Women had been holding a 24/7 sit-in protest at Shaheen Bagh against the CAA, demanding its withdrawal, and talks with the government.

Over three months, the protest continued through biting cold winter nights, heavy rainfall, and even the communal riots in Northeast Delhi last month.

At any given time, at least 150-200 women used to be present at the site, sloganeering against the CAA as well as the National Population Register and the proposed National Register of Citizens.

However, since Sunday, when the country observed a ‘Janata curfew’, only five women had been sitting at the Shaheen Bagh site, marking a symbolic protest.

The latest move has come nearly a week after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal banned gatherings in the national capital to deal with the corona-virus spread.

In the wake of his order, the anti-CAA protestors in the city had modified their style, by sitting on wide benches, instead of the floor, and not allowing older women and children to enter. However, several of these protests were called off on 22 and 23 March, after the Kejriwal government announced a complete lockdown.

Delhi Police clears Shaheen Bagh protest site amid coronavirus threat