Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Air India deserves your thank you. Not stigma and discrimination

This morning, I had a fight with a friend. He was listening to me cribbing about having to work from home and how I hadn't seen another human face in a week, and what not. After a few minutes, he spat back, "At least you have the option of staying at home. Unlike a lot of us who need to put ourselves at risk by stepping out of our homes, with no way of finding out if anyone has been exposed to the virus. So, sorry if I don't empathise with you on the stay-at-home point." Our office, a media organisation, has had people slotted into half, where half of us are working from home, and the rest — the ones who absolutely need to be at work — are going to the office.

At that point, it struck me yet again what it meant to be able to stay at home. Yes, it does play with our head and bring out our inner Swami Oms and Rakhi Sawants, but it is a kind of security that we, from our cushy cushions or makeshift workstations, can hardly begin to fathom.

Take Air India. The national carrier has been flying all over the world, from Wuhan to Rome, to bring back Indians stranded in their respective cities. These essential service providers have left their families for the call of duty. While images of an Air Asia pilot disembarking through the cockpit door floods our social media timelines, spare a thought for the Air India crew.

We salute them on Twitter. We share their photos on Facebook. We write our paeans to them on WhatsApp. We get to our balconies and clap our hands. We clang our thaalis. To thank them.
Then, as these people go back to their homes from the airport, they are met with 'vigilante RWAs'. Resident Welfare Associations, which mostly comprise senior members of a residential colony, drag these heroes through hell. Their homes are stamped 'quarantine'. An Air India flight attendant was even told that she and her family had to leave their society. Their fault? They rose to the call of duty, risked life and lung, to go and bring back Indians from affected areas.
In a heartbreaking statement on Twitter yesterday, the official handle of Air India wrote about the plight of their crew. About how they are being ostracised by their own societies and made to feel like aliens. The airline also asked the law enforcement agencies to take action against these self-styled judges who are leading the rally for discrimination against Air India.
They say calamity never quite hits home till it hits home. All of us who have seen a loved one or a relative, a friend sending out SOS calls from some corner of the world, begging for help from the Indian government, will know what that namaste means when we enter an Air India plane. That namaste is home. That aircraft is the comfort of familiarity.
We banged our plates and clapped our hands. Yesterday wasn't a festival. It was to thank these very caregivers and essential service providers who have been risking their lives every day to ensure that we sit at home. To be able to go on our society WhatsApp groups and ask for these very people to be boycotted.
23/03/20 Ananya Bhattacharya/DailyO
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