Social Distancing or Derailing the Society?

Bhaskar Majumder

Just now I got a surprise – my corporate friend in his mid-sixties asked me through WhatsApp technology if I could use my pen (read keyboard) to set the derailed society on right/previous track. What I could not tell him was history was irreversible. But let me try to honour elderly or wisely friendship.

What I have been experiencing being home-locked was mostly second hand, either through mobile phone or sending some expendable messenger outside to inform me what they had been observing in the public domain. This public domain includes the permitted participation of the poor people also who try their best to survive notwithstanding the distance maintained by others – the others are the polite elite who see in the poor a cattle class.

By the way, many of my friends on the Left in West Bengal are keeping studied silence, other than pointing at the Head of the Government on the circumference that I failed to make them understand that the Constitutional Head there was performing what they thought they were performing. Kakasso Praivedana!

Now it is weekly lockdown season and in Allahabad/Prayagraj it is weekly vegetable bazaar season also. It is monsoon. If the produced vegetables are not sold readily, whether or not J. B. Say’s law that “Supply creates its own demand’’ holds good, the supply side is in urgent need for the saleable goods are perishable also. Many of them brought those on their head/shoulder and came on foot; some came by bi-cycle and some by trolley depending on their capacity in ascending order. I sent my messenger who came back buying something that I may not even need for the pumpkin would get rotten after two days – I am forced distanced from such messengers ever in social hierarchy and hence what I told him terrorised him more rather than his effort to understand. I believe my readers understood by now the reasons of my buying pumpkin.

But then the central questions remain. The state is for safety of people and so lockdown was announced – now it is weekly in UP. But these poor people are not for Nanavati Hospital – they think in terms of roti-roji and not COVID-19. Five United Nations agencies, namely, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) co-authored a Report that showed that 9.0 per cent of world population survived in hunger in 2019 and the trend is monotonically rising. A major chunk of hungry population comes from Africa and India. One may produce alternative narratives also.

Following my intensive survey of villages in east UP in early July 2020 I found no Corona patient there in spite of the fact that in one 285 migrant workers came back home from Mumbai and other remote work-zones and in another 26 came back including one from United Arab Emirates.

What the above meant was the people in the locality behave in the way Government decided they should. What is the consequence so far? The migrant workers are unemployed at home and rethinking to re-migrate for the locality could not retain them. The children of their families could not go for digital education.

If a cost-benefit analysis at the village level is done with sincerity, the ground reality will be exposed in spite of the fact that the Dalit or the downtrodden do not speak out in the public domain. They are silent workers and not speakers.

But have we dislodged the society? Social change is one aspect and social distancing is another. Already intra-village household adults have learnt to live at a distance; the neighbours have become non-neighbours; the food bowls that used to move from one house to another stopped; collective works stopped other than on the paddy field this monsoon where incorrigible women delinked from capitalist exclusion were seen engaged.

What my corporate friend asked for was in addition to immunity boosting what he expected was social-psychological boosting. It seems he was trying to come out from the cobweb of corporate collusion. But corporate collusion has its own defeat embedded unless compensated by the Government through money-pumping – money that is extracted from the innocent people by dispossession. Unless the home market expands, supply fails sale. Rather than supply creating its own demand, for the comfort goods that are survival delinked, it is demand that feeds supply.

Rather than talking Economics that I am less competent, if I concentrate on the social aspect of the social distance then certain aspects are not very difficult to spell out even if it is premature. Sometimes premature sceptic statements (not arguments) are also warranted for the society needs to be cautious where it is stepping in. I have strong reasons to believe after I talked with unnumbered persons in age above 15 and up to 90, covering male and female, literate and less educated, is a type of dislodging even within the frame of living home-locked.

Some of them are thinking of course that they are enjoying leisure or protection from the ghost/Corona (stay home, stay safe). Some of them are also developing the Madhya Pradesh disproportionately. Some of them failed to realize that they had been developing co-morbidity. Some have forgotten to breathe – it seemed to me – offshoot of Bhayathanko. One of my senior citizen friends forgot the world beyond his own home living in Konnagar in the district of Hooghly in West Bengal – he was a national scholar. One young person is in nightmare and asked me if I also started developing the syndrome.

One is COVID-19 and India’s race not to be first or second from her current third rank in victimization – very rational and appreciable national outlook. The other is people’s own survival mode – hunger and public inaction for lockdown. So it is distanced from “Hunger and Public Action’’ penned by Dreze and Sen. Are we going to have a medical solution or a social solution? By the way, it cannot be a political solution notwithstanding the Rajasthan episode at present that may have a percolation effect.

The last but not the least, social distancing is a post-2020 invention that was missing over centuries in India. Undeniably caste-distancing was/is there, gender distancing (other than specific purposes) was/is there, Dasobhavo was/is there (that was why formal slavery was redundant in India’s civilization). But social accommodation was there or people believed so. Post-2020 social distancing has been administered and made mandatory for innocent people have been made to believe that social distancing is the panacea for biological survival. I observed derailing of society on the track of social distancing. The strength of a thesis lies in the rejection of the hypothesis. Let the thesis be accepted with hypothesis rejected.                  

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

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Jul 26, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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