Co-Written by Shamayita Sen and Debabrota Basu

“Chemical Shower, Bareilly, Covid 19’ by DeepankarGohain

On 14th April 2020 Indian Prime Minister (PM) announced the extension of the lockdown conceived to stall the spread of COVID-19 pandemic till May 3rd. The ‘shock lockdown’ which took effect from March 24th is evidently an ill-conceived and ill-executed strategy to confront the pandemic. While the percentage of casualty is steadily rising, the lockdown continues to paint a shoddy picture. Millions of migrant labourers fleeing the cities in a desperate bid to reach their villages remain stranded on highways and on the fringes of metropoles. When the lockdown was formally proclaimed, the government drew large scale condemnations for turning a blind eye to the plight of 139 million internal migrants who constitute the chief labour force in the urban megalopolis. The finance minister’s $22.5 billion financial package announced on March 26th came as a face-saver for the government. But it has been unable to translate itself into a lifesaver for those who are touted to be its real beneficiaries.

As the internal exodus of migrant laborers and daily wage workers which is being dubbed as the greatest since partition continues, a suspicious silence shrouds the establishment in power. No formal announcements have come from the office of the PM or the home minister detailing a plan to save the lives of the stranded marginal. In the national address that was telecasted yesterday, the PM comfortably glossed over the issues plaguing the fate of the migrant workers. He called for more serious implementation of the lockdown for the coming week is deemed to be crucial. In a classic twist of fate, hours after the PM’s address, a crowd of migrant labourer defying the lockdown thronged Mumbai’s Bandra West Railway station urging the authority to transport them back to their native villages. The home minister whose recent absence from the national scene has raised eyebrows called the chief minister of Maharashtra to express his ‘concern’ over the possible violation of lockdown due to the activities of the migrants. A government which promised ‘Achhe Din’ (good days) to and for all, is selectively making love in the time of corona.

Indian democracy as an ethical project has extended the right of the ballot, over time, to adults irrespective of ascriptive identities. But the experience of democracy by the Indian electorate remains severely skewed. It is constrained by the endowments of the national government which is significantly different from their entitlements as free citizens of the Indian Republic. The present dispensation in power is a party of the upper class/ caste. It is not ‘anti-democratic in expression; it is anti-democratic in execution’. The arbitrary proclamation and the whimsical extension of the lockdown have been made possible by invisibilizing the voices of the migrant workers from the national scene. The notional coinage of ‘public interest’ has outclassed the ‘outcaste’.

The cartography of the ‘public’ as perceived by the Indian government remains contentious. This fact has been underscored by the ongoing migrant crisis. Migrant laborers have been successfully hoodwinked by the present dispensation in power. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has demonstrated great skills in fiddling with peoples’ fear. The internal migrants have been touted as potential carriers of COVID-19 viruses while the Central government has barely taken measures in ensuring their safety. The ill-conceived decision to impose a countrywide lockdown gave ‘citizens’ only four hours to stockpile daily necessities. The ‘unaware, illiterate’ migrants were denied the ‘luxury’ of gathering food. The incumbent government, to ensure its survival as a subject, has systematically carved an ‘other’ out of the economically and socially marginalized of India.

This political project of internal otherization has gathered support from the economically and socially privileged. The site of the economy in India is heavily dependent on the social. An intersubjective understanding is thereby warranted as the migrant laborers overwhelmingly belong to lower caste, lower class while the upper class, upper caste largely remains responsible for their hand to mouth existence. As the Hindutva juggernaut continues to tighten its grip over India, it seems that Social Darwinism founded on the ethic of political conservatism is becoming a mainstay in the country’s political scene. The richest are being deemed the fittest. Not by enunciations but by actions, the BJP government at the Centre patronizes such an assessment.

Traditionally, Baniyas (the rich business class) and Brahmins (the priestly class) have been the patrons of BJP. As a natural corollary, BJP’s model of pyramidal society and market-led libertarian capitalism has rendered the state to play the role of a corporate. The decision of a countrywide lockdown has affected small businesses negatively rendering thousands of migrant laborers jobless. While the health of the economy is slowly nosediving, the central government has little or no solution to offer other than the aforementioned inadequate economic package. The Indian government perceives the well-being of the migrant workers as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and assumes to resolve it by a disabled program of charity. The corporate affairs ministry has recently announced that money donated by corporates to The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) would be considered as CSR under the Companies Act, 2013. Curiously, funds set up by the state governments have been kept outside the ambit of CSR. Thus, democracy in the agenda of the incumbent government has become synonymous with the ethical washing of an industrial Goliath. It seems that the PM cares only when the corporate dares to enrich his fund with money as fodder.

The migrant workers have been caught in a dilemma. Today, they are urging the government to think in binaries: “Either you start the trains so we can go home or you stop the lockdown so we can start our work”. The incumbent government’s praxis of privileging class over mass has stealthily turned the proverbial ‘caregiver’ into a systematic violator of people’s rights. It is time the government announces concrete measures to deal with the migrants’ perils for ‘how many times will’ it ‘turn’ its ‘head and pretend that’ it ‘just doesn’t see?’

Shamayita Sen is pursuing her MPhil. in Social Sciences at the Centre For Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta after having completed Masters in International Relations with specialization in Political Science from Jadavpur University. Her area of interest includes subaltern studies, social movements and collective memory.

Debabrota Basu is a poet and researcher associated with Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. He obtained his PhD from National University of Singapore and has been visiting researcher in Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris and Harvard University. His area of interest includes theory, ethics and privacy of Artificial Intelligence.

The authors can be contacted at shamayita.ju.ir@gmail.com and debabrota.basu@u.nus.edu.


SIGN UP FOR COUNTERCURRENTS DAILY NEWS LETTER


 

Comments are closed.