Covid-19, State Repression and the Decline of People’s Movement

 by  Dr. Md Afroz & Md Tabrez Alam

 The outbreak of Covid-19 shattered the whole world, everything goes on standstill except state, it got absolute control over territory and population curtailed all civil political movement and weakened democracy.


 Covid-19 outbreak and Human Catastrophe  

The ongoing Corona virus popularly known as COVID-19 rocked the whole world with its large number of infections and fatality has approx. 18.7 Crore affected, with 40.3 Lakh deaths whereas in India 3.8 Crore affected and 4.8 lakh death recorded (World Health Organization, 12 July 21). Although, independent researchers suggest higher numbers of fatality, predicting 10 times higher toll than shown in official figures. The international institution United Nations, which is built to counter any global crisis situation, calls world leaders to come forward to tackle the pandemic situation and WHO starts working with global experts, governments, other stakeholders to disseminate scientific knowledge and issued health protocols to prevent the outbreak. It devises ‘Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan’ which act upon prevention, coordination, surveillance, containment, treatment, through collaborating 146 countries across the world. In modern times 2020 is considered one of the toughest years for the entire world that suddenly witnessed complete lockdown, everything goes on standstill. Millions of people lost their jobs forced to live in-house as social distancing required to contain the spread of virus. The first wave took heavy toll to Europe and America, television and media filled with human corpses queued at hospital and cremated at mass in burial sites, whereas second wave jolted in non-western countries outnumbered all previous records of contamination and deaths such as India. While globally the US has the highest 6.1, India 4.8 second and Brazil 2.2 lakh deaths ranked third position in terms of casualties (ToI, 11 June 21). It is noted that countries that took early preventive measures minimized the damage. While these three highest affected country’s state heads took very casual to Covid, instead preparedness engaged in championing politics.

Covid Politics

The outbreak of Covid-19 at Wuhan, China transmitted the entire world at a phenomenal level. While, China’s ability in containment of virus and rapid recovery of economy put serious questions about virus origin, even the US ex-president Trump accused by saying Chinese virus instead Corona virus such states head accusations strengthen conspiracy theories around Covid transmission. There is debate whether Covid-19 virus is manmade or a natural course of occurrence; two opposite views have different contrasting views. Majority of virologists see it as a natural occurrence where viruses are transmitted from animals to humans but later Chinese government’s unfair cooperation in investigations has strengthened the opposite virologists claim that there is a possibility of lab leakage. Conservatives in the US and Europe allege that it is intentionally used as a weapon to control the world economy (ABC News, 14 June 21). While Beijing rejects such a claim, countering it is a conspiracy of their enemies. There is continued tussle between the Washington and Beijing governments to counter each side’s claim and use international platforms to influence world politics.

Vaccine Nationalism

The discovery of a vaccine should have ideally led to the spread of the virus, but it does not happen because of negative politics and emergence of different variants. The latest UK variant, India variant, Delta and Delta + variant are spreading at a higher rate and proving more fatal than before. The novel coronavirus changes quickly and it may continue to mutate evading our antibodies. Now the third wave of Covid is inevitable and imminent in coming months, we need to strictly follow health protocols and speed up vaccination drives, said IMA. The only method to halt the transmission of virus is universal vaccination and it desired global cooperation among big players, be it governments, pharmaceutical giants and other stakeholders. The present race to hoard Covid-19 vaccines by rich countries through monopolizing of purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturers and getting exclusive right over it excluding others would hit hard to the world’s 8 billion populations because of their inability to afford and access the vaccine. This has been also warned earlier by WHO saying that hoarding would deepen the pandemic and we have to prevent such development of ‘Vaccine nationalism’. Actually sharing fixed supplies strategically and globally is in every country’s national interest. While rich countries already secured pre-purchase agreements and restricted the vaccine supply to the free market such as the US, UK, European Union, Japan with Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer Inc, AstraZeneca etc.  For example, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the European Union have spent tens of billions of dollars on deals with vaccine front runners such as Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca Plc even before their effectiveness is proven (The Indian Express, 23 Aug.20). This trend is not good for liberal globalized world; it is a deceitful act in normal time’s west to advocate free market, human rights, liberal internationalism but in times of crisis restricting territorial confinement. Vaccine nationalism demolishes and exposes the hypocrisy of all tall claims of liberal democracy and championing of human rights.

Social Movements and State Repression

The years 2020 and 2021 have seen a fundamental disruption to the ‘normal way of life of citizens around the world. Many countries have responded to the COVID-19 emergency by imposing restrictions on the citizens’ ability to assemble and partake in protests and political action. Further, changes in policing regulations aimed at granting law enforcement officers the ability to police the public’s adherence to public health regulations have had a significant impact on the ability and freedom of citizens to gather and assert their political opinions and hold governments accountable. At the same time, however, this period has seen a flurry of politically relevant events and movements across the world. From the “Black Lives Matter” movement sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the US, to environmental movements such as the Extinction Rebellion demanding action on climate change, to the political struggles in Hong Kong, India, Myanmar, Colombia, Chile, Turkey, among others. Further, scholars have suggested that COVID-19 has magnified existing social injustices, with disadvantaged groups in society (and disadvantaged countries) suffering adverse consequences due to the imposition of regulation.

Social Movement across the Globe

The Social Movement broadly used to explain the varieties of civil political activism to secure political, social, economic rights through mass mobilization, lobbying in government to bring socio-political change in the lives of common people. 1960s onward new social movement surfaced in Post-industrialized economy which talked not only economic wellbeing but also Human rights of aboriginal people, transgender, LGBT and gay rights through public policy initiatives. Some of the popular social movements in contemporary times which brought magnitude changes in socio-political space such as Animal rights movement- to end the cruelty against animals for the purpose of food, clothing, research and entertainment. Anti-War movement- a global peace movement that seeks to achieve world peace, it compels states to halt any war or aggression which threatens the existence of humanity. Disability rights movement- This was also a global social movement that brought legislation and secure equal opportunities and equal rights for the people of disabilities. Shahbag movement- In the year of 2013, a mass movement gathered in Bangladesh that demanded the trial of Abdul Qadir Mulla for the crimes against humanity.  Occupy movement-was an international progressive social-political movement that organized against anti-capitalism to bring social, economic equality and ‘real democracy’ around the world. Black Lives Matter- is a recently organized social movement that outcries against police brutality and all forms of racially motivated violence against black people. Farmers’ movement in India- the ongoing ‘farmers movement’ that seeks to repeal the laws which were legislated in Indian parliament without conceding farmers’ demands, favouring big corporations.

Social Movement in India

Post independent India witnessed many social movements that brought drastic changes in the socio-political landscape. Although some of them achieved their goal while few of them failed to have impact on state and society such as Chipko Movement-1973, was an environmental agitation on the Gandhian principles of non-violence against timber mafia damaging local ecology; it was led by Sunder Lal Bahuguna joined by hundreds of women embracing trees to stop its cutting. It was massively successful. Namantaran Andolan-1978 was aimed to get recognition of Dalits icon in Indian society by renaming Marathwada University to Dr B.R. Ambedkar University. It was a success after 14 years of struggle. Narmada Bachao Andolan-1985, it was organized against the dam’s construction over Narmada river causing a great number of displacement of locals. Their demands were first rehabilitation, replacement and then construction. Unfortunately, it still has not met the end result. Anti-Mandal Agitation-1990, it was an all India protest movement against the V.P. Singh government decision to implement Mandal commission’s recommendation of 27 percent reservation of OBCs. Another Anti-Reservation Protest in 2006 against UPA decision of reserve quota for OBCs in both public and private universities. Both agitations were primarily anti-progressive movements that wanted to retain social status quo.  The year of 2011 witnessed another massive public outcry against corruption that demanded Jan Lokpal Bill led by ‘India against Corruption’ group. The very next year 2012 outpoured in street against Delhi Gang Rape demanded stringent punishment upon such crime to protect women safety. Both movements were genuine public outcry that wanted to bring radical changes in Indian political system but unfortunately are high-jacked for political motives, the causes faded away over the time. Some of other movements against the establishment were Jadavpur University Protest-2014, FTII Agitation-2015, JNU Protest-2016, Jallikattu Protest in Tamil Nadu-2017, Me-too Movement-2018, CAA, NRC Protest-2019 that failed to bring any impactful end results because of the nature of involvement of state and society. It might have had a remote effect and failed to seek larger societal involvement or it was brutally suppressed by state heavy handedness such in the case of CAA, NRC protest. The recent death of two renowned social activists Sunder Lal Bahuguna and father Stan sway due to Covid infection has two classy examples of success and failures of social movement in India. Both devoted their lives to bring positive social change where one was involved in mobilizing a mass movement where Stan Swamy fought a legal battle for Adivaasi’s rights individually.

In Nutshell,

Social movements are successful when peoples are united in citizenry subjects and have convergence of collective common interest that is glued by public activism. The outbreak of Covid-19 forced people to stay at home and social interaction got restricted that consequently detached public unity. Covid pandemic forced activists across the globe to find creative ways to express dissent and bring civic unity. While states used Covid as a shield to hide its failures, it tries to accumulate maximum power and act autocratically. There are several cases surfacing on media news that demonstrate the rising authoritarian state that hardly respects liberal values and democracy. Thus, in the crisis of governance civil society must organize on the subject of civic matters and pressurize the government to act upon the behest of citizens. The role of civil society and social workers are imminent in defending public interests through mass movement that would control political behavior and restore democratic values.


Dr Md Afroz, teaches Political science & Public Administration @MANUU. He has obtained M,Phil, PhD from Jamia Millia Islamia. His interest lies in; federalism, ethnic conflict, Nation-building, democratic decentralization and governance.

For more info.

[email protected]

Follow @khwajaAfrozSidd

MD Tabrez Alam, Doctoral Scholar @ Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi. As a researcher, the quest for knowledge begins from the fieldwork. Currently, he is working on Urban inequality and housing segregations in newly developed township India.

For more info.

[email protected]

Follow @ktabrezshams


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