Nation-locked: Where do we go from here?

Bhaskar Majumder

In spite of lockdown 1,2,3,4 and then unlock 1 and probably 2 on motion, most of the people do not know if they are unlocked. They are not taking any risk and following lockdown 1 for India that is Bharat they are taking time to grasp what is new. While the state moved from lock to unlock for the key is with the state, the nation that is people failed to understand it. India is first a state and then a nation; I mean state-nation and not nation-state. So, lockdown persists whether or not Advisory maintains it.
The episode is since end-March 2020 though it is termed Covid 2019. I failed to collect any information in 2019 though had some idea that some non-resident Indians started facing the Corona virus danger abroad and sought help of the Government of India to facilitate them come back home. Some were facilitated to come back. The terms “quarantine’’ and “social distancing’’ evolved much later – perhaps post-lockdown 2020.

People believe what the dominant media believe and the latter sing the song of the dominant wing of the state. People are dependent thus on a long chain – they do not see the intermediary media and remote state. People are innocent as ever. They are sleeping at home since past three months – half way of the slumber-capacity of Kumbhokarno. The only difference is for Kumbhokarno it was self-decided while slumber of people post-lockdown is state-sponsored. Of course, the state did not ask people to sleep ad infinitum. But then what better option home-locked people could have? Non-sleeping might lead to more domestic violence in a generally small room called house for most of the people in Bharat.

What optimizes the state may not optimize the individual. The state is not the summation of individuals. Of course, it is a different aspect that India is hardly individual-centred, with exceptions. But state-optimization that is conditional upon nation-sleeping may lead to disaster – both individual and national. The major manifestations may be demoralization-depression-suicide. Let me explain.

Many of the activities are really more of socialization and less of what gets manifested readily. Take for example, educational institutions. The introduction of online study is hardly any substitute of face-to-face interactive study that establishes a harmonious social relation between the teacher and the taught. It is not necessary that it has to be a room with four walls or a concrete building – it could be under a tree in the mode of Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore. Or, take for example, Kolkata fish market that shows more than seller-buyer relation, it includes some Maasis (adult women) who do half the work of the home-maker of modern days by cutting-cleaning of fish within the bazaar space itself and the fish-seller advices the buyer how to cook the fish. The equilibrium is reached more on socio-cultural front than on economic front. Post-lockdown, while educational institutions are closed indefinite, the scope and frequency to visit fish market has lessened abnormally that is “new normal’’.

The latest report is special Shramik trains are running on the right track but non-special trains are locked till August 12, 2020. Air space is open – flights are there it seems but the pilots and crew members are on leave or have applied for leave. It seems, you are free to swim – water is there; only condition is your hands and legs are locked.

Being home-locked far distanced from Kolkata I applied WhatsApp method and telephonic communication to grasp what people of different age brackets had been perceiving constrained by the condition of being brain-locked over past three months of uninterrupted rest after sleep-drudgery or sleep-disorder. One elderly superannuated man who had been a national scholar came out of home for a total of 25 minutes during the past three months and he did not mind it – the failure to see the cloud and interact with friends-neighbours-relatives face-to-face. One college-going boy was at a loss what to talk about for he lost his words – for him initially it was policephobia. One superannuated woman in her early sixties has been feeling uncomfortable in spite of having own house and all private utilities. One man in his mid-sixties who worked more as a social worker has preferred to remain home-locked for he is not sure about the holes in his body through which Corona might enter to take him to Mahakaal. Most of the boys and girls were understood to have remained engaged over mobile phone for reasons not clear – it could have been minimizing friendship-distancing.  

An environment of general silence has been the social cloud since past few months – there is cloud but no sound or lightning. In most of the cases that I could have access to, family members were TV-locked in a general condition of brain-locked. They did not even have the willingness to inquire why they were home-locked and how long they would be. Many of them started praying to Almighty more. Many across age in Kolkata started believing that Maa Durga would kill Corona come October. All are maintaining not only physical distance but also inter-family distance, neighbour-distance and all that without even caring for the long-term consequences. All are trying their best not to fall ill. All are using hand wash soap or sanitizer frequently to make the astrologer distanced. Some who had to go outside for some hours came back to take an elaborate bath. Each started thinking to survive in a Corona-hostile world without caring for others for others were being seen as Ravana. Home became the Lakshmanrekha drawn by the state – Lakshman-state.

Post-lockdown I have been observing a general silence. I have also been finding a general environment of fear – Corona-fear. In the Heartland I find people are conforming to wearing masks and not spitting openly. But one point is common for both the Heartland and the land in exception – it is fear and silence. Silence has its offshoot – delayed response, inner resistance to respond, lost opinion, social irrelevance or redundancy, belittling the self by hiding. Public space shrinks to home and shrinking public sphere leads to loss of confidence. No doubt, some emergency services are allowed to operate but the scale has so diminished for many of those that the domain of public utilities has also shrunk.

The major problem is not material or economic consequence as is being observed. The consequence of forced home-locked condition is yet to come in terms of anxiety-depression-suicide-nightmare. The conditions of jobless, job loss, friend loss, social support loss may reinforce the syndrome.

The ruling apparatus thinks it better to rule the already ruled – but that is an illusion. Rule is applied by the ruler – people are already home-locked since past three months – where is the need of the ruler? Silence means no voice – infrequent voice from the incorrigible few is readily silenced. The satellite rulers are praised by the centre to keep the circumference intact. Innocent people have learnt not only to remain home-locked for fear of death but also circle-locked.

While the Heartland has of late been praised for success in Corona with least number of deaths as the indicator, the failure of other states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Delhi with economic carrying capacity was not put before the innocent people. Success breeds success. So the new labour retaining 'Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyaan' has been launched first with the anchor state with a population size of 240+ million. I had been re-iterating that if Heartland succeeds, then Bharat succeeds – and Bharat shows the way to India. Kerala is cornered in success stories – unmentioned.

Let me back to the core point. Manual workers and farmers are going to be re-engaged with assured wages perhaps and wages paid in time. Some may die for reasons different from Corona like the very recent one in Gopalgunj district of Bihar because of lightning. Some sent out workers may disappear on the Indo-China border unless guardians take care of them. All these are in nation-building by the state. But the major problems remain – the nation’s could-be think tank is home-locked that failed the state or the state failed them to come out to become think-ocean.

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Jul 1, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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