Duty in time of crisis

Published On: March 26, 2020 01:35 PM NPT By: Sujit Mainali

Sense of helping each other during the times of crisis is very much the part of our social behavior but it seems to be fading gradually

Entire humanity is battling with the greatest challenge unleashed by Covid-19 pandemic. Death toll has crossed 18,000 and infection rate more than 3, 0000. Fortunately, Nepal has not had any fatality so far and only two persons have been tested positive. But fear and panic has gripped us all, badly. But some are making this an occasion to make money. Erosion of professional ethics in multitude of occupations is becoming visible.

Apad dharma  

Several Hindu treatises including Kautilya's Aarthasastra, Mahabharata and Manusmriti have prescribed how people should conduct their duties during the times of crisis. These books refer to conduct during crisis time as apad dharma, apad meaning crisis, dharma meaning duty. These books suggest that conducting duties like in normal times during the crisis does not lead to expected outcomes and therefore people should be able to redefine their dharma in the changed circumstances. The motive should be, say these books, welfare of the self and the society as a whole.

Kautilya in Aarthasastra talks about what he calls 'providential calamities' including floods, fire, epidemic and famine. He suggests that during such calamities the state should provide food and medication to the people. Other treatises even suggest that people may consume or to distribute the forbidden staples including flesh of human corpses or dogs during famine. The motive behind adopting such an unethical [adharmik] measure is to protect life and thereby existence of humanity.

The sense of helping each other during the times of crisis is very much the part of our social behavior but it seems to be fading gradually.

Traditionally, helping the people in distress has been the duty of relatives, neighbors and the society in Nepal. If a member of a society died, people from the neighborhood used to participate in the funeral by bringing some logs or wood for the cremation of the dead. If the cremating site was far away, participants would even carry kitchen utensils from their homes to feed the mourners on the way. Relatives, neighbors and members of the society used to visit the family of the deceased along with food grains, fruits, vegetables, etc thereby helping the family in mourning to sustain their livelihood during the time of grief.

That spirit is certainly waning. People tend to use the turbulent times to extract benefits from the individuals who are facing the worst times. So we come to read about how relatives of the deceased are charged higher amount in Pashupati crematorium by the persons who sell materials needed for cremation. Now, as the Covid-19 is raising the specter of doom in Nepal, some businessmen are cheating the people.

This is the time for all professionals to exhibit utmost restraint and to help people in need. Indeed, some have lived up to the sense of social responsibilities. Many are generously offering help to people in distress. Volunteers are contributing to sanitize people in the road, diagnosing their health, distributing surgical masks and consoling them in several ways. But at the same time, traders are also raising the price of goods in the market too high. Greed has no limit.

Rein them

After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic and urged the South Asian countries to remain alert, some businessmen started to hoard surgical masks and hand sanitizers. Then they produced hand sanitizers and supplied in market in much higher price. The artificial shortage of food grains and cooking gas was also created, contributing to black marketing.

Question has been raised about ethics of other professionals as well. It is being reported from several parts of the country that health professionals are treating patients of fever and flu. They should try their best to remain disinfected as they are more exposed to the infection but they should not ignore the patients, for treating patients is the main duty of the health workers.

When NAC decided to send a plane to Wuhan city of China to rescue Nepali students, pilot Bijaya Lama and some other crew members refused to join the flight. The government had to seek support from the Pakistani pilots to accomplish the mission. What good are the professionals if they cannot offer their professionalism in times of need?

We must realize that social responsibilities are associated with every profession. If societal values are ignored, the profession becomes a mere occupation to maximize earnings. If ethics and responsibilities associated with the occupation are disregarded, there will be no distinction between criminals and businessmen or health practitioners. If professional responsibilities are sacrificed for the personal gains, we will be headed toward the worst times during the crisis.

The government needs to take action against those who fail to abide by professional obligations and those involved in black-marketing. While addressing the nation some days ago, Prime Minister KP Oli announced that the people involved in creating artificial shortage, hoarding, black-marketing, adulteration etc will be subject to strict action as per the existing laws.  The state should mobilize its authorities to ensure that PM's assurance translates into action fast. In the long run, state and societies should work together to uplift the diminishing social values associated with professions. Family should motivate children to accord deserving priority to the social obligations. Out school curriculum should also provide lessons on social responsibilities and professional ethics to students.

The author can be contacted at sujitmainali@gmail.com




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