University shutdown but the problem remains – Kuchh Toh Corona?
By Devika Jamkhedkar, Undergraduate batch of 2021
As the COVID 19 sweeps across the world at a frustratingly smooth pace, it was not long until the frenzy penetrated the so very compact Ashokan bubble. You heard about it on the news and you scrolled past the online debates. College is out and we’re now living a version of that gleefully sadistic game Pandemic. Beyond the hysterical headlines about gau mutra, the virus is a serious threat to the Ashokan campus that the university must knuckle down and get ready to handle.
Presently, the admin has taken some swift and necessary measures, like suspending classes until 30th March, regulating the entry of students in and out of the campus, and sanitizing the dorms. While these measures are effective in theory, the execution brings challenges. The admin’s stance on whether one can move in and out of campus has changed within days, with confusions exacerbating problems of travel. A UG was denied entry into campus in spite of his permission from the Dean of Student affairs and was made to wait in the smoking room full of people. “Basically, they asked me to fuck off after making me wait for 9 hours in the smoking-room.” Upon failing to receive ‘fresh permission’ the student was made to leave campus even if he had to fly home, exposing him to an exponentially larger crowd than in the already unhygienic smoking room. This is a serious logistical botch-up that not only creates more distress in an already stressful time but can actually put the student body at risk. The administration must show more clarity and competence as there is little room for errors in this crucial time.
The barrier to coronavirus awareness and relief measures is the belief that the 1500 young members with their healthy, spick and span lungs would easily survive. Such a view strongly ignores the ability of the virus to afflict a highly vulnerable group. The WHO estimates that COVID-19 generates 2-2.5 secondary infections than influenza. While India has much to boast about the curative properties of cow dung, the low number of cases may actually be the result of low testing. In this uncertain context, the least Ashoka can do is exercise ample precaution. The 25-acre campus that gets so oddly stifling after your third weekend in a row also makes for speedier transfer of the virus. While the overwhelming majority of the student body would recover, the illness would spread to the older members of the support, maintenance staff, and faculty and flit into Asawarpur within days. An outbreak in the villages and the district of Sonipat itself would be disastrous. Villagers are in no practical or financial way equipped to cope with a deceptively innocuous flu that they can hardly contain. To downplay the ramifications of such a spread is painfully apathetic. Lives are at stake, even if they are not ours.
While most students were able to promptly leave when an email politely advised us to flee for our lives, a distinct portion does not have this option. International students and those who cannot afford to leave abruptly are currently the most vulnerable part of the Ashokan community. There must be an extensive medical plan drawn up to aid international students who are stranded on campus during a severely stressful period.
In the very worst scenario that is looming over the horizon, what would happen if there were an outbreak in Ashoka? Mass panic and sad reaccs aside, there has been no communication about the emergency measures to be taken, not even a rudimentary or interim plan. It is understandable that the infirmary is not equipped to deal with an international pandemic. However, given its inefficient handling of the dengue outbreak in monsoon 2019, the idea of little to no planning or reform is worrying. Given its minuscule size and scarcity of medical professionals, it must be urgently modified to safeguard the treatment of a sizable number of students.
A possible solution would be the transfer of students to the Asawarpur hospital but it must be conducted with strict caution. Further, there has been little said about medical treatment for the support staff, guards and mess outlet employees. In the face of a serious illness, all Ashokans are equal stakeholders in a struggle that transcends class, but will inevitably be a heavier burden on the working class members of our privileged space. It is a moral duty to take utmost measures to prevent a cruel outbreak upon those who will suffer worse than we will.
While the powerful dean has suspended university until 30th March, it is unlikely that the virus will magically disappear after the stipulated date. The university has reacted with urgency but is sorely lacking in the imperative future planning. What does the admin have in mind? There must be some construct in the works, as an outbreak is a far greater reality than anyone would like to consider. And what is the role of the student body? Discourse and communication must persist. A world pandemic brings debilitating uncertainty and fear, the need of the hour is to allay it with a concrete plan of action.