Indians come out in hordes to celebrate Modi’s call for social distancing

Lost in translation.
Lost in translation.
Image: AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh
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Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s call to applaud health and critical delivery workers may have been a tad too well received yesterday (March 22), posing a serious health risk to hundreds of people.

In a March 19 televised address to the nation, Modi called for a “Janata Curfew” on March 22 between 7am and 9pm. He also called on Indians to gather on their balconies and windows at 5pm to demonstrate their appreciation of these critical service providers by clapping, clanging metal vessels, or ringing bells for five minutes.

A large number of Indians obliged.

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In the past few days, such gestures have been made in some severely Covid-19-affected countries like Italy and Spain, too.

Yet, in replicating this, many Indians may jeopardised the whole idea of “social distancing” itself—ironic since this was the driving spirit behind Modi’s “Janata Curfew” call.

In many parts of India, people stepped out into the streets in large groups, chanting, clanging vessels, playing traditional instruments, and sloganeering—merely to showcase their enthusiasm but entirely negating whatever little was gained from the curfew itself.

Incredibly, in many places like Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, senior government officials themselves led such large groups. In Karnataka, for instance, the state governor, Vajubhai Vala, led from the front.

This high-risk overenthusiasm drew criticism from several quarters, highlighting that instead of helping curb the pandemic, the exercise could potentially worsen it.

However, this mass high-risk behaviour wasn’t the only matter of concern. It was also a field day for fake news and rumour-mongering.

For instance, many argued that the “positive energy,” from the clanging and clapping, would help push back the virus. At least one top movie star and one senior politician of Modi’s own party, unwittingly or otherwise, propagated this myth.