On June 26, Noam Chomsky, the well-known philosopher, linguist and social critic, Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen and Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist, came together as part of ‘Kerala Dialogue’, a webinar on development launched by the state government.
‘Kerala Dialogue: Rethinking and reimagining development in a world disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic’ is bringing together leading thinkers, policy makers, professionals, scientists and the general public on a common platform. It seeks to be a medium where they can rethink and re-imagine development for a world disrupted by the pandemic.
Highlighting the importance of such a platform in the post-COVID-19 world, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said at the inauguration: “Humanity is in a battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic and the resultant crisis have made us all rethink about the core aspects of our life. We now know that we have to change for this new world. Our priorities are going to change. Even the way we organise our society may change. Some of the common knowledge that we take for granted might become useless. We may have to gain new knowledge to adapt. This not something that governments alone can do. A society-wide conversation is necessary. We have to search, develop, discuss and debate ideas and models through these conversations.”
Chomsky, who was part of the series, said the way Kerala responded to the pandemic came as a surprise to the whole world.
“The differences in the way between Kerala and the rest of India, and the rest of most of the world, on how they reacted to the crisis was quite startling. Not many places have dealt with it the way Kerala has. This pandemic has brought out very sharply the extraordinary inequality that has been, of course always there, but greatly exaggerated through the neo-liberal period (sic),” Chomsky said.
Asked if there would be a fundamental change in the world by the time the pandemic was over, Chomsky said that countries like the US are trying to move toward dictatorships, more restrictions and surveillance. “But there are movements all over the world to counter this. Coordinating this can be a huge force. They can make changes and they are all trying to create a new world,” Chomsky said.
Praising Kerala for the way it has handled COVID-19, Amartya Sen said that this would be a transformatory movement for a state which dealt with the pandemic while combating bureaucracy and red tape.
Sen came down heavily on the “unplanned and unstructured lockdown” in India, and said it caused distress and hardship. “I think COVID would be a transformatory movement in Kerala. There is a danger of being deluged under the rather deceptive economic slogan that is so dominant in India today and there is widespread resistance to that. But it also suggests that combating bureaucracy, combating red tape, and doing things with exceeding speed, which indeed is what Kerala seems to have done in dealing with COVID,” Sen said.
Sen appreciated the public healthcare system and the high level of literacy in the state. “The unplanned and unstructured lockdown in India caused distress and hardship. The government should have discussed the matter with civil society. However, the government implemented the lockdown in an authoritarian manner. It was a disaster for the daily-wage labourers,” Sen said.
Sen also pointed out that the collapse of the public system, which has happened in Europe, has not happened in Kerala. “Though Europe had a tradition of public sector intervention, it is not there now. But that kind of reliance on the public sector can still be seen in Kerala,” he added.
WHO Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, said countries which responded to the early warning issued by the World Health Organisation were better prepared to face the pandemic.
“On January 30, WHO issued an emergency alert for a global COVID-19 defence.But Kerala had already started preventive measures in early January, anticipating potential problems. That is why the first cases from Wuhan could be discovered. Following this, Kerala was able to locate, quarantine those who had contact with them and contain the outbreak. Kerala has been able to contain the disease as fast as possible due to proper preventive measures,” Swaminathan said.
Chomsky said Vietnam took the virus head on and that not a single COVID-19 related death was reported there. He also pointed out that South Korea had also effectively controlled the pandemic, even without a lockdown.
“Taiwan, Hong Kong and New Zealand are other countries that dealt with the disease. In Europe, Germany was able to prevent the spread of the disease in a good way. What saved them was that Germany did not adopt a commercial hospital system like the US,” he said.
Chomsky said it was doctors from “poor Cuba, who have been the victims of the US economic assault for more than six decades”, who moved to Italy to help them out. “This pandemic was able to show the extraordinary inequality of the world. In the United States, it was most pronounced….Blacks and their descendants from Spain and South America suffered the most in the United States,” he claimed.
(With Inputs from PTI)