After four months since onslaught of Coronavirus it seems as if the pandemic will start retreating in the next couple of weeks and things will return to normal. During this period the world has gained a collective experience of living under "Lockdown" and learned to cope up with the "police control". I am not undermining the dangers of this new virus rather trying to draw your attention towards the fundamental crisis that is unveiling in the name of this danger.
First let us have a look at the chronology of events in India, the first case of Corona infection was traced in a student who returned from the city of Wuhan in China to his homeland Kerala on January 30, 2020. By the third day of February 2020, a total of three infected cases were found. Come March and we have a thousand cases. On April 2 it doubled up to 2000. Then it touched 3000 in a couple of days and the latest data being 21,403 infected and 681 dead by April 23, 2020
This period has witnessed a sustained campaign by the media against Tableeghi Jamaat, a religious sect of Muslims that was held responsible of spreading infection. Although 27 infected people were traced Corona positive in a group of Sikhs who had returned from Italy and Germany on March 7th. Likewise 5 people were identified as Corona positive among a foreigner tourist group that visited Tajmahal in Agra on March 5th. The Indian Government has accepted that a total of 15 lakh foreign travelers visited India from January 18 to March 23.
India was locked down on the night of March 24 through an address to the nation by PM Narendra Modi. At that time around 10 Crore people were residing away from home temporarily in different provinces of India. The sudden announcement took them by surprise and they left their dwellings in haste to return home. Around 25 lakh workers left for their homes with families covering 1000 to 1500 kilometers by road on foot. They faced police batons, rains, hunger and fear at the same time but nothing could stop them. This reverse migration reminded the country of the Great Exodus that was witnessed during the partition of India 70 years back. On the way, many were lured and forced back too.
The situation deteriorated when Prime Minister announced extension of lockdown till May 3. People gathered at railway stations in Surat and Mumbai. This undeclared emergency took a toll on 15 Crore migrant workers across the nation. At the same time members of upwardly mobile middle class were lifted in luxury buses by the administration in Gujarat, South India and Uttar Pradesh and taken back home. This was a stark revelation of class privilege shown by the State that has strengthened in last few decades under the neo-liberal regime.
Apart from class difference, communal polarization has also sharpened during the last few years that have instilled a sense of fear amongst Muslims. Minorities and Dalits are being attacked with impunity violating all constitutional norms. This trend has not only continued but intensified in the wake of Corona pandemic. People who got stucked on the way to home are victims of mis-management and are starving. The government announced package of 1.7 lakh crores for Corona but it is of no use to Crores of migrant workers. On the other hand more than 40 Crore farmers and workers are dissatisfied. Their future is gloomy.
Around 94 percent of the workforce is employed in unorganized and informal sector that contributes 45 percent to the GDP. This is the group that has been affected worst during lockdown. People have lost their jobs overnight. Farming is in perpetual crisis. In this agricultural season farm labour is unavailable and transportation locked down that has resulted in the destruction of farm yields. A total 58 percent population is dependent on agriculture and contributes 256 billion dollars in Indian economy. We have no idea what this loss would amount to the economy as a whole.
Some independent data is also available for different sectors. As per Center for Asia-Pacific Aviation (CAPA) estimates, aviation sector will lose 4 billion dollars which would in turn affect tourism and hospitality business. Auto Industry would suffer 2 billion dollars. Experts say that a relief package of at least 10 Lakh Crore is required to be pumped in the Indian economy.
Meanwhile whatever it takes for COVID-19 to subside, it would have changed the lifestyles permanently. People will embrace some changes themselves, rest would be imposed by the state and police. A new vocabulary has emerged altogether like Social Distancing, Quarantine, Isolation, Lockdown, Coronials, etc. Now people will maintain distance and suspect every other. Forget hugging, handshake will become a thing of the past. In this scenario, if the communal forces reign in, then an individual will be identified by his/her religion. Some new products have entered in daily life like sanitizer, mask, gloves, PPE, gun thermometer. Middle class families will now prefer keeping these permanently at home.
Recall 1980's when just after the explosion of HIV/AIDS disposable equipments and condoms became an essential part of medical fraternity. Likewise people will now need to sanities themselves when they go out and come back. Handshake, hugging etc will become a rare sight, forget a kiss of love.
After Corona infection subsides, hospitals will change their priority of diseases. Almost in every hospital we could see a different department for communicable diseases in Emergency and ICU. Medical professional will now give priority to Corona infection over any other disease. Hospitals will have to priorities public health in their list over specialized treatment of diseases like Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Diseases, Gastro, Renal and Mental Diseases. Private Hospitals have started increasing the number of ICU's, ventilators and Isolation wards. Doctors will reorient waiting section of their private clinics. Spitting will be a serious crime now. Thermal scanners will be installed at the entrance points in hospitals and clinics. Waiting halls in OPD are being redesigned to enforce social distancing norms. Many hospitals have started discrimination on religious lines. And most probably a visiting patient would be needed to declare whether he has not returned from a foreign trip in recent times.
This is the first time when we see a centralized and strengthened role of state and police during an epidemic. After the lockdown was enforced, we came to know that the right to privacy and related civic provisions hold no more in front of Epidemic Act, 1897. Right to Privacy is given under Article 21 of Indian Constitution and part of fundamental rights under Section 3 that says no one could be deprived of right over his/her body under the statutes of established law. Although Article 352 of the constitution equips the President under Articles 358 and 359 to suspend fundamental rights in a situation of national emergency but rights provided under Articles 21 and 23 cannot be revoked in any case. Today we see clearly that a majoritarian government with the help of its police is ready to violate all these rights just under Epidemic Act 1897.
In the world after Corona we will see that the government in power would resort to ambiguous and one sided decisions without giving a shit to the opposition or democratic process. The fundamental functioning of government will change and so the relation with its citizens. Most of the education and jobs will go online. Your data on mobile and computers would be under direct surveillance. Resistance of peoples' organizations for civic rights would be termed as anti-national and middle class will support it. Non-aligned movements and regional co-operation will give way to a more centralized global system. Powers of the provinces will shrink altogether and centralized nationalist politics would flourish under the garb of democracy. Democracy would shrink further.
During a pandemic, people are required to follow a certain set of rules. For this government keeps a watch over peoples' activities and punishes those who violate orders. This surveillance will be enforced through UID, mobile number and data. CCTV cameras installed in the community will keep a 24 X 7 watch over citizens and government may catch anyone on its whims and fancies. You will be forced to obey the power through police. Questioning the current day government will become tougher. The most powerful few will govern this world and every government will be most powerful in its own territory. Democracy will no more remain "government by the people, for the people and of the people". This will transform into "of the government and for the people". Opposition will become redundant under this new definition.
The million dollar question is: Are we ready for the new regime?
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Nisha Khosla, Delhi, INDIA