How a health worker’s campaign reminded me to stay hopeful

Tough times seldom last, tough people do.”

As a citizen of the world’s largest democracy, I am aware of how my country has survived many crises and endured events that brought India much tension throughout the years. This coronavirus crisis, however, is something a lot of us have never experienced before. At the beginning of the outbreak, I did not expect the sudden hysteria to unfurl a landscape of uncertainties: not knowing when I could step out of the house again, not knowing when the illustrative curve would flatten, or whether or not social distancing would be part of the “new normal.” Like many countries around the world, India too was left in a state of panic.

However, technology was on our side. In the age of social distancing and where #StayAtHome is the battle cry of countless people across the Internet, technology has been helping bring citizens together to rally (albeit virtually) for a good and urgent cause.

Dr. Sarika, a frontline health worker, is one of the thousands of citizens in India who have turned to the Internet to take action. Often without protective gear, she has worked endless hours, risking her life to attend to patients battling COVID-19. So imagine her reaction when she learned about the discrimination, violent physical attacks, and verbal abuse that doctors in India have been experiencing for being exposed to (and being possible carriers of) the coronavirus.

She understood quite well that healthcare workers who risked their lives to save others deserved better, so she started a petition on asking the government to declare these attacks on health workers a non-bailable offense.

Doctors like me, are working non-stop often without protective gear. Our mental health is being pushed to the limit because we’re afraid of going back home to our families, worried that we may be carriers of coronavirus. But what has really broken our heart in the past couple of days is the violence we’ve faced,” Dr. Sarika says.

Within hours of starting the petition, the team in India reached out to her to help escalate her campaign to millions of people. With the team’s guidance, Dr. Sarika sent out emails to mobilize public support online and even prepare for media interviews. In a matter of days since starting her campaign, she was able to air her cause on national and international news channels — primetime.

More than 200,000 people signed her petition in just a span of three weeks. As a campaigner myself, I felt relieved knowing that there were many others who shared Dr. Sarika’s unease enough to rally behind her cause. And I felt inspired knowing that thousands of people have turned to technology as a means to solve urgent subsidiary issues such as this.

After less than a month campaigning, Dr. Sarika’s petition declared a victory on the 22nd of April when the government responded by promulgating the Epidemic Act.

“The Central Government under the Epidemic Act made attacking a doctor or health worker a cognizable and non-bailable offense. The real challenge for society is to remove the stigma being associated with this disease and treat patients with empathy and kindness.

Tough times seldom last, tough people do,” shares Dr. Sarika.

Stories like this continue to inspire me despite such testing times. While we can use social media to tweet or comment about how we feel, I’m reminded that we can do so much more.

Dr. Sarika’s determination to protect those who protect us, which she materialized through her petition, is a mighty example of that Indian resolve that I know too well. Her story and many others help me to continue believing that we can beat COVID-19, so long as we do it together. #StayAtHome #ActAtHome

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