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Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Prime Minister’s ‘#9minutes at 9 pm’ to break the monotony of COVID-19, and untimely Diwali celebration in India

The purposeful call of the Prime Minister of India under “#9minutes at 9 pm” undeservedly turned into bursting of firecrackers with candles and lamps across the country on April 5 last Sunday and resulted in widespread criticism. Many termed it as ‘obedience test’, but such call is in consonance of similar planned exercise done in Italy and the United Kingdom to break citizens’ monotony during the lockdown period of COVID-19 pandemic. The reason the plan went little haywire was since the current generation of India, without ever having the experience of stay locked at home in a disease outbreak situation and stressed somewhat, were not properly sensitized on the rationale of the call. As a result, media reported of a massive fire breaking out after a flying lantern fell on a hut in Jaipur’s Vaishali Nagar in Rajasthan, fire near to runway of Sholapur airport in Maharashtra, arrest warranted in Kolkata in West Bengal to thwart people breaching the lockdown norms. Fireworks, thalis, whistles and police siren were heard. Undoubtedly, these incidents defeated the whole purpose of the ‘#9minutes at 9 pm’; as in the earlier occasion of the ‘Janta Curfew’.

Scientists have opined that monotony coupled with a need to maintain high levels of alertness (as in current lockdown situation) could represent a combination capable of eliciting considerable stress. The mental health experts opine that looking after self-wellbeing and mental health is vital in difficult times. As scientifically proven fear and anxiety can suppress one’s immune system, so finding ways to calm the nervous system and deal with the spread of COVID19 will boost one’s immune system and help fight infection. Many people know ways to do this intuitively: listening to music, singing, walking in green spaces. Others have been taught in mindfulness groups or Yoga classes or a myriad of other approaches like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or tapping). For most of these approaches, there is scientific evidence to show that they work to calm the nervous system, that they enhance learning and creativity and boost the immune response. Ensuring one has enough sleep is another evidenced way of enhancing immunity. Several studies have indicated that the psychological well-being could improve the human body immune responses, enhance resistance towards diseases (including infectious diseases), and create a spiritually and physically more prosperous life. Psychologists in the field of “psychoneuroimmunology” have shown that state of mind affects one’s state of health. According to a psychologist. one thing that was proposed to be effective and efficient as an effort to improve body immune response was strengthening psychological balance in the context of psychological well-being. Many attempts have been made to increase body resilience towards infection. These attempts were exemplified by the promotion of hygiene and the use of antiseptic ingredients, pharmaceutical compounds, and vaccines. Currently, due to COVID-19, much stress on handwashing, personal hygiene and social distancing as governments at the Union and the States in India, and dwell on across all continents. According to Psychologists, one thing that was proposed to be effective and efficient as an effort to improve body immune response was strengthening psychological balance in the context of psychological well-being.

Admittedly, there is no ‘science’ behind lighting Lamps and Candles; Of Light During Darkness, of Solidarity in Distress, but if one pauses and think as to why lamps and candles are so intrinsically linked to spirituality (across all religious traditions) as well as romance – to ‘Agape’ and ‘Eros’, alike. Is it because the psychologists say a lit candle or a lamp has the subtle effect of settling one’s disturbed minds when the individual is low and amplifying the joy when the individual is happy. Similarly, the primordial sense of security as human ancestors learnt to light a fire and control; and protect themselves from wild beasts at night, led fire to somehow probably give the human being the sense of security even in contemporary times when fear engulfs.

Probably, the rationale of Prime Minister’s call for observance of ‘9minutes at 9 pm’ on Sunday last was grounded on the above biopsychosocial model that is a modern approach to health science. The said approach systematically considers biological, psychological, and social factors and their complex interactions in understanding health, illness-causing diseases, and healthcare delivery.

To accomplish the purpose of any important Government call to the citizen in times of crisis, effective communication, education and public awareness (CEPA) management systems have to be in place. Should that had been in place, the Prime Minister’s call for ‘Janta Curfew’ and subsequent ‘9 minutes at 9 pm’ to Indian citizens, would not have missed the true purpose. Citizens could have understood the rationale and behave suitably.

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Dr Gautam Kr Ghosh
Dr Gautam Kr Ghosh
PhD (sociology), PG in Reproductive & Child Health. Research Scientist, ICMR National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Beliaghata, Kolkata. Contributor to The Eastern Herald.

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