Prof. Pradeep Mathur
About 80 years ago when most of Afro-Asian countries, including India were struggling for freedom from colonial rule of Western powers, Frankfurt- born writer Erich Fromm’s book, The Fear of Freedom made an odd entry in the literary world. First published by Farrar Runehart in 1941, the book received uncertain welcome with liberals even accusing writer, a psychoanalyst , of being an apologist of the colonial powers who were trying to perpetuate their rule in the countries craving for independence.
Erich Fromm’s work was largely academic. He was saying what human history has always known – the fear is a good means of social control. In all societies and all religions people are told to please gods and avoid doing anything that will make the gods angry. The kings have always called themselves as representatives of gods so as to make people obey them and accept their hegemony. Even present – day rulers go to religions shrines and seek people’s support in the name of religion.
The feeling of fear from the unknown can be fought only with reason and scientific temperament. Industrial Revolution and the technological progress in the past 200 years or so did fight blind beliefs and superstition – based fears to a great extent but the deadly nuclear weapons gave birth to a new kind of fear – the fear of a war that will annihilate the world. The fear of war led to the phenomenon of cold war and though it was said to have ended with the collapse of the Soviet empire and end of bipolar world it exists in some form or the other even today . The fear of war is used to mobilise people in the name of nationalism and win elections.
Howsoever powerful a country may be its people can still be told to fear the enemy Country. When I shifted to Delhi from Chandigarh in 1980 at the entrance of Herald House on Zafar Marg I found written a Jawahalal Nehru quote “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might”. By that time India had more or less settled its score against China, had won two major wars against Pakistan, and had become a world power after exploding nuclear device at Pokhran in 1974.But still they thought that our freedom was in peril.Nehru was one of the greatest English prose writers of his time. I wondered why could they not get a better quote from his writings. Perhaps fear was the crucial point.
Now Corona has come as a gift of gold in the hands of ruling classes for social control by keeping people in a state of perpetual fear. Covid 19 is no doubt a deadly virus and it has already killed nearly 2 lakh people in the world. However, its use deliberately or otherwise, as a means of social control is even more deadly.
The virus is treacherous and it can attack and kill anybody, especially senior citizens like us. However, assess its overall impact in a country like India. Even if we take that the number of actual cases is under- reported, hardly 0.05 percent of India’s population is affected by Corona and the mortality rate of Corona victims is only 2.615 percent which means that on the national level only 00.001307 percent Indians need to fear for their lives from Corona.
Human life is uncertain and people have been dying before Corona outbreak and they will keep dying even when the virus is gone. One can die of Corona, Corona plus comorbidities or any other reason. But one should not feel dead while alive as so many severly frightened people all over the country are doing at present.
To protect yourself is the most sensible thing. To have a foolproof self-protection system is highly desirable and has no harm. But to live in a state of morbid fear is no protection and is, therefore, not needed. In fact it is counterproductive as it reduces immunity and weakens our defence against the disease.
Time has come when our country gets out of the four-month hibernation period we have lived so far. Let us as a nation get our vibrance back. We cannot be a nation of the dead as have become at the moment with no socio-political movements and no expression of support for the right and fair or protest against what is wrong, unfair and oppressive.
A society without any momentum is a dead society. And we cannot afford to be one. A vibrant democracy and peace of graveyard cannot co-exist So the time has come when we must come out of our hibernation and strive for freedom of fear from Corona.
= The author, a veteran journalist and a former Professor at IIMC, New Delhi, is editor of Media map, a monthly thought journal on current affairs.