What is New Normal?

Bhaskar Majumder

I have been perusing the phrase “new normal’’ since past around 60 days.  As if there had been something like normal accepted as “old normal’’ – or that something new emerged, hence the past is termed old normal. I, however, did not find the phrase “old normal’’ in literature so far. I would like to be enlightened, hence.

In case the never-seen Corona virus and living with it is new normal, the question comes where is the normalcy? Is the virus normal? Is social distancing (that I think is physical distancing) as per Advisory normal? Is the condition of being home-locked for 60+ days normal? Is walking barefoot on road 1,000 km. in the summer normal? Is initial reluctance of the Apex Court to find the migrant workers walking on road normal? Is genocide on road or disappearance of people normal? These days I find some conformists who have started posing counter questions like: “who do you question?’’ My immediate response is, I question myself and I confess I don’t have immediate answer.

It is not a question of win or defeat. It is a question on humanity. It is a question on India’s civilization described no better by anybody than Ravindranath Tagore “Ei Bharater Mahamanaver Sagartire’’. I am not sure if the political masters circumscribed by the stars on the circumference understand what Kaviguru meant by that. The sooner it is understood in its essence, the better.

But then the question should not be escaped – what was old normal, if now there is a new normal? The people of India lived not only with old Congress, but also Navo Congress, Indira Congress; they lived with pleasure and pain around plenty and scarcity of food, they lived with flood-drought-Tsunami-cyclone-landslide-earthquake and all that; they lived with border conflicts and Wars. They were internally displaced and tried to find some place to live. Of course, many lived on railway platforms and road dividers. But in my past six decades I never came across a situation where people slept on railway tracks to die – suicide? Is it new normal?

What is new normal – that the migrant workers will remain unpaid for 40+ days of declared lockdown that was beyond their comprehension? Is the new normal equivalent to the infant’s searching/playing with his/her young mother lying dead on a railway platform in Bihar? Is the new normal blocking Rampukar to move ahead to listen ultimately death of his newborn baby in Bihar?

Is it the indifference of the elite or the perceived self-protective behaviour of the middle section new normal? Is conformism new normal? Is fear new normal? Is Webinar new normal – I mean the teacher-taught distancing? Is perpetual anxiety new normal?

New research is, of course, going on – who is more Corona-vulnerable – men or women, elite or non-elite, town or village and all rubbish? New research is also going on India’s ranking in Corona graph – absolutely premature. New research also projected the end of Corona by some specified months that nobody is going to check for its incredibility. New research also drew the Covid curve that was projected to get flattened – inverted V-shape? The single-cycle or the multiple cycles was omitted, however. It seems both economists and statisticians are confused that they will get rid of after some years by production of new findings.

Meanwhile one commercial religious centre, it is alleged, informed through WhatsApp University that it has anti-Corona solution. Now if that solution costs Rs. 100 per bottle, then it can earn Rs. 1300000000000 that follows sale of one bottle per person encompassing 1300 million population in India. Can my readers count the zeros? My concern is not with paying Rs. 100 per person. My concern is why the political determinant is not questing the claim and if found false not arresting the person claiming for it plays with human belief and life.

Any crisis brings about not only misery for the majority but affluence-opportunity for the few – this is not political majority or religious minority. The never-thought Corona crisis is one such that can toy with the innocent people of India – many of them I suspect may remain in hunger. Is hunger new normal?

Priorities, of course, differ. At the bottom it is roti-roji-ghar; at the top it is accumulation by dispossession. In between, the middle section that inherited British tradition of remaining safe. Ghar came to be on the priority list for the confidence of the destination-locked migrant workers was shaken by the state. Is declined or declining confidence a new normal? Meanwhile labourers have been sent (they did not migrate) to the Indo-China border for road construction from Jharkhand – nobody knows if they have been registered, what wage rate they will be paid and how, will their families receive the wages in time and what happens if they face injury – are they insured?

Of course, some will sacrifice for nation-building. That was old normal and that is new normal. But then hunger cannot be new normal. Job loss, jobless, wages unpaid, death on railway track while sleeping cannot be new normal. Police brutality cannot be new normal. Acceptance of abnormal cannot be new normal. Home-locked-led psychological disorder cannot be new normal. It is one aspect to imagine compulsive situations and it is totally different to call it normal.  

As a vagabond I create scope to talk to people at the bottom in the Heartland – even these days in a home-locked condition. I asked many of them – sweepers, maalis, cooks, khalasis, rickshaw pullers, auto rickshaw drivers – ‘Dar kisme jaada hai – Corona me, ya bhookh me?’ I asked each one maintaining physical distance. Each one replied with variations in language, ‘Saab, Agar bhookh me mar jaye, to Corona kaa baat ayega kahaa se?’

Ultimately I got some ray at the end of the tunnel-confusion. It is both old normal and new normal – it is hunger of the common man. The rest is cosmetic normalcy.

Apology: I have full faith on the state.     

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Jun 19, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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