Remembering Hegel- A pandemic odyssey from no recognition to full-fledged recognition of the proletariats in India

coronavirus migrants covid19

The buzzing tunes of a crisis at the starting of 2020 have encompassed the whole globe within a realm of euphoria setting apart new discourses of predicament, accumulating every section of the population for visualizing the unseen, thinking of the unthinkable ever. The subalterns of the working class have played a major role in today’s times of pandemic, settling differences of basic needs of food, shelter, job security, and fighting the pandemic itself.

The COVID 19 pandemic as deadly as it is, the so-called obnoxious force for halting many lives and looming over the world to a never-ending tragedy has categorized superiors and underprivileged in our society. George William Fredrick Hegel, a philosopher would lead us to de-codify these margins of our Indian society today in the hard times of pandemic.

Hegel’s most celebrated work “The Phenomenology of Spirit/ The Phenomenology of Mind”, where he talks about one’s desire for recognition and the development of self-consciousness, will now triumph the existence of the proletariat in India. The Hegelian desire for recognition can be implicitly observed when certain hard times such as during pandemic, every section of society demands recognition from the welfare state for the mitigating crisis of joblessness, mobility, services of health, food, and security.

The starting of the pandemic in India was contextualized with the nationwide lockdown for 21 days on 24th March 2020. The lives of millions of working-class population in the unorganized sector came to halt when uncertainty would be the new normal from then onwards. Uncertainty of traveling back to home, the uncertainty of fulfilling basic needs was to be thought and recognized by the government for the people in a planned manner before the lockdown. Whereas, the recognition was granted to those Indians who were stranded abroad in the Gulf and other parts of the world for bringing them back to India.

According to Hegel people seeks recognition from others for establishing the authenticity of being. The authenticity of recognition of the Indians abroad was established during the initial days of the lockdown when the government facilitated aircraft to bring them back. The subaltern proletariats of India also needed such recognition from the government before lockdown or during the initial days of the lockdown.

The delusional and desperate realm of crisis for the proletariats created a recognition in itself for them from the governments when news of tragic incidents of people walking, cycling hundreds of kilometers for traversing home became a tragic reality, thousands gathering at Delhi risking the deadly Coronavirus for mitigating the crisis of fulfillment basic needs and traveling home in times of the repressive state apparatus of lockdown, incidents of train running over in Aurangabad leading to the death of 16 asleep migrants, negotiating hunger, thirst, and fatigue to travel home. These tragic incidents authenticated the existence of the proletariat and established the much-needed recognition from the state. This recognition was provided when the government decided to arrange measures for the migrant proletariats to reach home. If such measures of buses and trains were provided earlier, such tragedies would never have existed.

The two components here, the subaltern proletariat and the state have their self-consciousness, which is the product of social and cultural fabric. The consciousness for both the parties is not achieved merely through individual existence, which is the state recognizes the subalterns and the reality of the subalterns are justified vis-à-vis the subalterns establishing and recognizing the legitimacy of the state government by voting or electing the leaders. It is through this very bond of mutual recognition that both the parties of the state and the proletariat strives for social meanings and become self-aware of their existence. The determination of sense and gravitas concerning the establishment of a room within the social system is occupied by beholding one’s relation with others. Here one and other is entailed by the version of the proletariat and the state.

Thus, mutual recognition involves the master and slave dialectics according to Hegel, where one becomes the master when one is being recognized by the other and one who recognizes the essence of someone becomes the slave. This dialectics can be implicated towards the dialectics of recognition for the proletariat workers of the unorganized sector concerning the state. Both the proletariat and the state have their self-consciousness and both can visualize their limits by wielding itself to an optimum effort.

Both parties struggle with their own might to realize the extent of their strength in relation to others. The proletariat outnumbered in the society realizes their strength in times of pandemic to bend the state into granting recognition by providing transport services to reach home, provide food, employment guarantee through MGNREGA and Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan when class consciousness among workers prevail and let them achieve inhuman targets of combating hunger, shelter, security, and distance. The state on the other hand asserts that the working demographic dividend of the country has huge potentials in functioning the country and when they are not taken care of, tragic dysfunction would loom over the country where factories and businesses would be shut off.

After the government granting recognition to the proletariat, the government being the slave of the Hegelian master-slave dialectics knows its limitedness and proves itself dependent on the proletariat. It realizes how fragile it is and understands that for sustaining, each proletariat vote counts. The master, the proletariat on the other hand did not discover his limitedness, for which certain false consciousness may be groomed over when the slave (state) finds possible ways of shaping the masters (Proletariat) world, which is through controlling the market. This justifies the fact that although the master controls the slave, it cannot control the slave’s spirit that is the persuasion and hegemony of the greater political economy of the slave (state) and its nexus with the corporates.

The evolution of human consciousness is embedded in Hegel’s dialectical idealism. The proletariat has evolved its consciousness during corona saga in three instances. At first, the proletariat availed to understand the world around them, the world of tough times, the world of hunger, the world of exploitation, eventually understanding how to physically feel this world of pain and at last, they developed the ability to become conscious and understanding themselves of existing around tragedies. These three instances of the evolution of consciousness lead them to have ideas of conquering herculean tasks of walking hundreds of kilometers desperately.

The pandemic has created certain dimensions of risk in society. The affluent section of the society can eliminate the risk and diverge the risk from them. The proletariat on the other hand lives within the risks and is more prone to harm and damages in such hard times. Ventilators, sanitizers, and face masks have become the utility of the affluent. But still, the proletariats have been the unsung heroes of wars, exploitation, epidemics, and pandemics since history and through recognition, and struggle for welfare, the existence of the proletariat is legitimated since history.

Bijit Das is a Ph.D. research scholar from the dept of Sociology, Dibrugarh University. Email: [email protected]



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