When the lockdown extension was announced, to continue till May 3, a lot of the “twitterati” jumped on the opportunity to show off their Star Wars meme familiarity. In a reference to a long tradition of greeting the date, 4th of May, of “May the 4th (also called Star Wars Day)” each year with the pun on a popular line from the Star Wars series, “May the Force be with you,” the Indian twitterati gleefully pitched in with a slight modification to the standard line, with “May the 4th be with us.”
Of course, it was a trivial, light-hearted moment, something that twitter allows all of us to indulge in – firing off catchy and mostly shallow formulations, often shooting from the hip.
The “Force” referred to in Star Wars is often spoken of as an “energy field created by all living beings,” something can be harnessed and utilized for the good of the world.
Whatever it may be exactly, the phrase “May the Force be with you,” is a form of wishing strength and power to take on unjust structures in the world and establishing a just order.
And if such wishes could be sent in any direction this year, it has to be towards the working people of the world who have suffered so much disruption in their lives on account of the various economic lockdowns following the corona pandemic.
We should know that well in India, having been witness to the heartbreaking distress caused to migrant workers. Though mention was made off and on in the media to the role these “citymakers” play, it was quite shocking to actually see the way they were passed over in the conceiving of the lockdown and how they suffered as a result.
The contrast was very stark, between the experience of so-called “knowledge-workers” whose tasks moved online almost seamlessly and the mehnatkash – the true working and laboring classes – who suddenly found their modes of sustenance snatched from them, without recourse to alternative modes.
It demonstrated how little society values the invisible, fundamental and indispensable tasks that such workers perform to make lives run for the rest of us. They were portrayed as masses and throngs at bus-stations, as nameless, faceless people trudging on highways, as the guilty who had to be hosed down with chemicals. The basic dignity that should have been accorded to the real citymakers was nowhere to be seen.
A famous person is supposed to have remarked that, “if a pastor and chimney sweep don’t show up for work on a certain day, who will you miss more?” The answer for most of us is obvious.
In a recent GeoTV discussion segment, when the anchor tells the guest, journalist Hassan Nisar, that the coronavirus pandemic has reduced the wealth of 226 billionaires according to Forbes magazine, he responds that even many more billionaires dropping off such lists does not matter. In fact, if from this world seths, industrialists, landholders, bankers, shayars, TV anchors – if they all disappear one day, the world will not stop. But if for some reason, one fine day, people like barbers, dhobis, cobblers, cooks, carpenters, farmers etc do not show up for work, the world would “seize” within two weeks.
As Kancha Illaiah Shepherd says about Dalitbahujans in his essay ‘Productive Labour, Consciousness and History: The Dalitbahujan Alternative’, “we are skilled producers, productive instrument-makers, creative builders of the material basis of the society.”
Such basic and unalterable truths must be recognized and due recognition must be shown the workers who keep the socio-economic engine of society running.
On this May Day we have to renew our conviction many fold to support the cause of the workers in the current tough times and those anticipated in the near future, when the effects of the lockdown will start to manifest themselves on the lives of the workers – even more than they have till now.To the extent we can, we have to summon our own ordinary powers and wish that all the Forces of justice and equity be with them.
Umang Kumar is a socially-conscious writer in the Delhi NCR area.