A Humanist Response, as a Self-Conscious Philosophy, to Pandemics

Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam – Public Domain

On March 13, the Government of India announced that it would cancel all visas until April 15 in an attempt to restrict international travel. The federal government did, however, make exceptions for those with diplomatic passports, work visas, and emergency visas.

A few days later, the administration of Jammu and Kashmir declared that no “foreign tourists” would be allowed into the now union territory. The administration of J & K did not seem to recognize, at least not overtly, exceptions made by the federal government. This discrepancy made travel to the Valley difficult for some of us. A couple of days ago, Kashmiri students returning from Bangladesh were not screened after they landed in Srinagar, but were quarantined without batting an eyelid. Of course, children of people in official positions were whisked away and, unlike their peers, not quarantined. This discrepancy caused an uproar. Several parents protested the treatment meted out to their children, and they were not entirely wrong.

Jammu and Kashmir has been in a state of disarray since August 2019. The uncertainly, fear, and paranoia in the Valley have been exacerbated in the wake of COVID-19.

I would hope that the administration of J & K would be on the same page as the federal government, to which it is beholden, in terms of health screenings and travel arrangements, so the chaos and disarray could be decreased.

While it is important for all of us to be careful because of the outbreak of coronavirus, we cannot allow the fear this has generated to increase polarization and racial profiling. Most of us lead atomized lives. We invest more time and energy in email, text, and social media than we do in face-to-face interactions.Neighborly visits are a thing of the past. We don’t seem to have the inclination to build bridges across cultural and political divides. The rhetoric of bitterness and hate that is palpable the world over has been undermining rule of law. We have a lack of understanding of each other and a paranoia that leads to violence. The fear of the “other,” which is becoming legitimized, must be addressed boldly and courageously.

I hope we can see a humanist response, as a self-conscious political philosophy, to epidemics and pandemics. Such a response must cross the frontiers of nationality and culture. A mere political response, as opposed to a humanitarian one, would reinforce borders between nation-states with irrationality and remorselessness.

It has become increasingly difficult to connect with members of one’s immediate family in other parts of the world in these turbulent times. But I do the best I can to maintain family ties, particularly with those who are an integral part of my being. For me, my parents have always epitomized every virtue, value, and principle I hold dear. And even in times of political tumult, and now health hazards, I have done everything in my power to remain connected with them. They have always been my anchor. The unconditional love, energy, and support that they have given me has made me realize that every ounce of energy that I have invested in maintaining my connect with them, despite the geographical distance, has been well worth it. I could climb mountains, literally and figuratively, just to hold their hands.

Of course, Kashmir has an enormously strong grip on me. There are times when I delude myself into believing that I am emotionally free of ties to my native land. But Kashmir is quick to remind me of its unrelenting hold on my mind and soul.

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.