The Panopticon Gaze, that was once a metaphor to study the relation between system of fabricated social control of civilians in a disciplinary situation, is now a global reality amid the Coronavirus outbreak, and is being deployed by the government worldwide to supervise every movement of its citizens. The result of this deployed surveillance has led to a social acceptance of docility and its internalization by the people. The real danger here is not that the people are being repressed by the state-sponsored surveillance, but that they are carefully fabricated and willingly woven in it. This means – whipping, shooting, enforcing censorship, brutal crackdown on voices of dissent, deploying mass surveillance and normalising draconian laws, all in the name of containing and preventing the pandemic.
Implementing the ‘Plague Model’ for Deploying National Surveillance
During early modernity, the ‘Plague Model’, as Foucault agrees, was superseded by a new model of power, that had its roots in the fear of plague. “If it is true that the leper gave rise to rituals of exclusion, which to a certain extent provided the model for, and general form of the great Confinement, then the plague gave rise to disciplinary projects” (Discipline and Punish, 1975). The Coronavirus pandemic has become biopolitical project, where governments, as advised by the medical body, are deploying national surveillance, eliminating all democratic liberties under the pretext of “health-safety-survival”, thereby, governing the population as the State would ideally fantasize– as docile biomass. From Russia, Philippines, Ghana, Hungary, India to Israel, authoritarian leaders are imposing draconian laws to restrain, regulate and restrict privacy of civilians.
The Russian government has introduced a surveillance mechanism to track the spread of coronavirus. While this can be considered as a precautionary measure to contain mass contamination, but its deployment has surpassed the basic level of monitored and controlled surveillance. From location tracking application, CCTV cameras with facial recognition, tapping mobile phone data, credit cards to QR codes, one can label this form of extremely intrusive electronic policies as nothing but ‘cyber-gulag’. On the other hand, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (on April 2nd, 2020), ordered strict deployment of police and military personal to “shoot dead” any protestors, human right activists, and opposition, who opposes his proposed lockdown measures. The proverb ‘Killing two birds with one stone’ has come alive, both literally and statistically. On April 5th, 2020, a 63-year-old civilian was shot dead by the military in the town of Nasipit in the southern province of Agusan del Norte. “This is an unprecedented health crisis, but President Duterte is focusing on attacking freedoms of speech and assembly,” said Butch Olano, a director for Amnesty International in the Philippines. A similar political-social digital surveillance narrative has been deployed by the President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo, who has introduced a new law that normalizes shooting and whipping of Africans. The new law not only gives the President the power to use the loaded gun as he pleases, but allows security officers to use guns, whip, and tear canisters against any man, if found disobeying the lockdown regulations. This law, in its all account, neither has any sunset clause nor mentions COVID-19 in its legislation. In short, a draconian law in its full swing. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved tapping of classified cell phone data to track the movements of people. The surveillance policy would sift through the geolocation data routine of millions of residents in Israel and West Bank, collected from the Israeli cell phone providers. The most interesting part is the order to close all courts and legal entities, delaying his scheduled appearance (17th March, 2020) in the court for corruption charges against him. Moving swiftly to India, not only Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being heavily criticized for mistreatment of millions of migrant workers during national shutdown, but also for communalizing the pandemic and hounding Indian Muslims. From blaming China initially for being the “creator of coronavirus”, the right-wing narrative moved conveniently over a month to blaming and labelling Muslim minority as the “super spreaders of Corona and Corona Jihad”. The announced rationale for deploying national surveillance by the government around the globe remains the same – to contain and prevent the pandemic. However, in the name of medical urgency, draconian laws are being enforced to strip civilians off their anonymity, privacy and democratic liberties. Thereby, reducing citizens to nothing but a docile and obligatory disciplined biomass. What one must question is the use of non-medical mandarins of powers to contain the virus, and the deployment of coercive methodologies to preserve the viral ideologies of those in power.
This article is not anti-statist in its plasmatic structure. Nonetheless, it expresses the sentiment of each, who has begun to question the magnitude of democratic damage that these draconian laws will manifest into. Rather than a desperate attempt to ‘pathologically intrude’ within the democratic rights of its citizens(militarization and deployment of draconian surveillance laws), the State must surveillance and contain the ‘pathogen intruder’(coronavirus), by providing the healthcare professional and working class the resources to fight-survive-reverse the medical-economic-social damage done by the pathogen. Remember, if the former continues, the power will emerge from authoritarian to totalitarian, after the sunset of the pathogen, with each citizen carefully fabricated and willingly woven into it. This would give birth to the primordial classic dilemma of a liberal democracy, where one ought and must do a rigorous analysis and formulate strategies to de-commodify healthcare sector, re-tool the positioning of the subject-State relation, without abandoning the collective solidarity to fight the pandemic, or simply surrender to the State.
About Author– Parul Verma, a post-graduate in Clinical Psychology, Philosophy and English Literature. Her work on Israel-Palestine conflict and communal lynching in India has been published in diverse international media publication and academic journals. To reach her, mail at firstname.lastname@example.org