Who’s the first person you think of when you hear the word ‘hero’? Superman, the iconic cartoon character who used his superpowers to fight crime? Or maybe Achilles, the mythological Greek warrior who fought in the Trojan war?

Well, not all heroes wear capes. Neither do they wear shiny metallic armor.

Think about it. What is the definition of the word ‘hero’? Quite simply, a hero is a person who puts his or her life at risk for the greater good of the community. Or a person who performs simple everyday acts to help others in need.

US psychologist Frank Farley distinguishes between two kinds of heroism: ‘big H’ heroism and ‘small h’ heroism.

Big H heroism involves performing dramatic actions at the risk of your life or freedom. Small h heroism is about everyday actions such as helping people out or showing kindness and don’t involve any personal harm or risk.

We all know about Big H heroes such as Mahatma Gandhi, who risked his life and freedom and led a non-violent movement for India’s independence, and Nelson Mandela, who led the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and spent 27 years in prison. We also recognize and honor soldiers who give up their lives in war as heroes.

But the coronavirus pandemic has redefined the word ‘hero’ forever. Today’s heroes aren’t freedom fighters, fictional flying men, or mythological Greek demi-gods. Instead, they are the ordinary men and women who’re putting their lives at risk every day to keep the world safe from a frightening disease.

As the world grapples with the catastrophic fallout of the pandemic, the real heroes are the frontline health care professionals, sanitation workers, engineers, and technicians who are working to ensure we have basic services such as electricity and water during the lockdown. They are the vegetable vendors, truck drivers, grocery store workers, railwaymen, and administrators, who India Today magazine calls “The Saviours”.

You also have everyday people like Abhishek, an engineer in Bangalore who took parts out of home computing machines to repair an X-ray machine at a COVID center. And the woman auto driver in Mumbai who drove the needy during the lockdown. 

Then, there's the Pune-based scientist who developed India’s first COVID-19 testing kit in six weeks while pregnant. And delivered her daughter a day after she delivered the kit. 

And you have the civil services aspirant in Karnataka who became an information warrior by simply using a Telegram group to help locals sift through COVID-related news. And the pet-lover in Coimbatore who mobilized 40 people to feed street dogs during the lockdown. 

And last but not the least, people amongst us who have gone onto the streets and highways to feed the dislocated and desperately in need.  

“Typically, it’s (heroism) been ascribed to people who have lived lives dedicated to a cause–the Martin Luther Kings and the Mandelas,” BBC Worklife quoted US psychologist Philip Zimbardo as saying. “Now we’re perhaps recognizing that we should be willing to give what is, after all, a title of great honour to many more people who are genuinely putting themselves at risk, which is clearly the case for healthcare workers in particular now… Risk like this was never in their job description. What’s more, they’re doing it every day. That’s heroism with a capital H.”

Once unsung, the world is now recognizing these heroes for their role in keeping us safe during the lockdown. Indians recognized their efforts by lighting candles and diyas and in countries across the world from Italy and France to Canada and China, people clapped and cheered from their balconies to applaud health workers and other frontline workers for putting their lives on the line.

“They are our Covid warriors, people who have put themselves in harm’s way to go beyond the call of duty,” India Today editor Aroon Purie wrote in his letter from the editor. “A threat to life may not have been part of their original job description, but they are unmindful of this new occupational hazard. There are others who are volunteers trying to mitigate the repercussions of the crisis.” 

Sugita Katyal is an Associate Director with the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. A former journalist and history major, she loves watching crime shows.

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