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Covid black market is a reflection of the blackness within us

7 May, 2021 18:16:01
Covid black market is a reflection of the blackness within us

In these horrific times, looking for help on social media for a friend whose elderly father urgently needed oxygen, I came upon a post by Kolkata Police, detailing how they had busted an oxygen and Covid drugs racket, and were on the hunt for all the gang members.

With my school and college Whatsapp groups having turned into informal disaster management centres, I scrolled through messages from childhood friends to learn how, with most of them living outside Kolkata, friends and relatives in the city were frantically looking for anyone who would sell them a single cylinder of oxygen or a single strip of Remdesivir, at whatever price. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures, we have always been told. But these are times when, having paid huge amounts in advance for oxygen and medicines, they never arrive. People watch in agony as loved ones die gasping for breath, as the person they had paid for the oxygen no longer takes their calls. Perhaps we haven’t really understood the true meaning of desperation yet?

When we as a society have become so devalued, is it any wonder that the government we have elected is similarly devalued? When telling lies is easier than speaking the truth, when honesty is equated to foolishness, when cheating and corruption are normalised as everyday occurrences, how can we expect service from a system that we ourselves have built? It is a system in which everything is geared toward short-term gains and instant gratification, at all costs. We are a reflection of everyone around us, and the picture is uglier than sin.

As the Kolkata Police post made clear, the black market in both oxygen and proven or unproven Covid medication is thriving. A friend whose colleague was diagnosed with Covid a week ago recounts how he and a few others rushed around Kolkata looking for oxygen, finally buying two cylinders for an incredible Rs 82,000 from a small pharmacy which was hoarding cylinders in secret. I asked if they had reported the pharmacy to the police, and he said no, because what if someone else needed oxygen but was unable to get it from legitimate sources?

So there we are. For every unscrupulous, morally bankrupt black marketeer, we have a group of people in support, because the legitimate sources have failed. From reports in the mainstream and social media, criminals in many parts of the country are running a thriving business of procuring non-existent hospital beds too. The modus operandi is simple and predictable - promise someone a hospital bed, demand payment in advance, and then disappear, safe in the knowledge that an already overworked administration will be unable to pursue the matter. 

As a society, I think it is safe to say we have touched rock bottom when we can consider earning money at the expense of someone else’s life. What I have seen around me in the past month has once again brought home to me the fact that many of us, at heart, are willing to kill for money. And those at the receiving end today may very well be at an advantage tomorrow, as they are in a position to charge Rs 30,000 for one strip of tablets, which do not even cost a tenth of that price in the open market.

Yes, there are a few who are still trying to swim against the tide, by rendering voluntary, free service to strangers in need. But when all is said and done, these are foolish people who are losing out on the opportunity to make quick bucks. They should be punished for their unselfishness and lack of greed. That is what we have come to.

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