Unlock 2: Are “We, the People of India’’, Unlocked?

Bhaskar Majumder

I find myself these days in wonderland. Now it seems Unlock 2 phase – people have started thinking that they are permitted to come out from being in a state of state-sponsored home-locked for the past three months. If past three months showed past perfect, future is indefinite for the public mode of transport is not much dependable.
The problem is railways locked – trains as physical bodies are there lying idle but Advisory says trains will not move up to 12th August, 2020. Extendable. Air route is probably open with many pilots and crew members on leave or have applied for leave. Also availing air route for a common man is difficult not necessarily for cost but more so for the very hurdles in reaching the nearest airport from home in the home state as well as uncertainty involved.

Now the season of common man being water-locked has arrived. Nepal will be accused for flood in Bihar, Bhutan will be accused for flood in Assam and all that. Water at the causal point also often becomes deadly – not only at the point of consequence – like bursting of clouds or lightning and death of farmers as happened end-June in BUP (Bihar and UP) for farmers who got engaged in farming – maintaining social distance, of course. Reportedly, it was 83 in Bihar and 30 in UP – it had no link with Corona virus.

After more than three months of Corona-honeymoon – though not a sweet one – the brain-locked persons are not providing sermons on Covid Curve flattening, or doubling rate of occurrences of persons affected on some time span, or that India is doing much better relative to US and so on. Fear is there in everybody’s mind, with exceptions. While common men are locked, de facto, some frequent fliers are there like the members in expert committees appointed by the competent authority including the authority itself that move out and move in. So do the sweepers-farmers-day wage-workers. For the latter category, of course, moving out is certain, moving in is not certain for lightning and all that.

I conversed face-to-face, half-the-face masked, however, with the people-workers at Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh that included sweepers both regular and ad hoc, cook and helper, security staff, driver, maali to get to know what they had been doing in their home, in the bazaar and in the villages if they had a root village. Most of them replied that they were not much concerned about Corona – it seemed to me that the gravity of it was not properly understood by them. I asked who in their families suffered from this during past three months and their quick response was, none. It could have been that they were not tested medically that I did not ask them for that could have frightened them.

Apart from people engaged as workers, I talked to two milkmen who come to my Institute to supply milk to resident families. The response was the same – none affected and none hospitalized. Their mouth was locked by a mask but they could respond to be audible.

Now two problems are imminent that the state will take care of – one is political elections and the other is water-locked. For election, steps have already been taken with the launching of employment scheme for the returnee migrant workers. Democracy works is not enough – it has to prove it works. The proof is provided by the media.

Media have problems also – exaggeration. Because of mostly mediacrity (media in mediocrity), it often became like fish market howling. But the major problem is while trying to show competence of the political master, media may have an unwilling exposure of the cause. Media being an intermediary, in cause-effect relation it often gets confused.
But the media do not decide locking or unlocking – some of the brain-locked people accuse media for not much valid reasons. The decisions are taken by the political master – media may only glorify it. Media is functioning – means it is not locked unlike what happened during June 25, 1975 to March 31, 1977. Media unlocked means the watchdog is unlocked – it is emergency-distanced. But then the problems remain – how do people supply data to media if people are home-locked brain-locked? How are newspapers distributed if trains are locked?

People of old days wait for newspapers early in the morning to peruse with a cup of tea. Newspaper hawkers run on bicycle to distribute door-to-door to people waiting to get it. The main distributor waits on railway platform to collect newspapers that come early in the morning. Al these constitute a social relation. Most of these are gone for lockdown. Life has become digital.

Of late it has become difficult to understand who is locked and who is unlocked. It is like fish in water – lip-locked fish is not caught, however, it drinks water in appropriate time; lip-open fish is caught. This fish may be the bureaucrats, media people, some incorrigible public intellectuals, and at the bottom some self-engaged academicians. The layer of water, however, differs. The bureaucrats live in deep water beyond the net; or the net is different for this type of fish. The public intellectuals suffocate early – come on the top of the layer of water and caught.

Now UP is being praised like anything by the political master. Facts? 15 districts of UP have been declared hotspots and completely locked – people are not allowed to step out of house. People believe their master – so they remain brain-locked. There is a difference between head and brain.

Personal Charisma works wonder in India. This is no “new normal’’. It was Purushottam Rama; It was Bhagwan Krishna; It was Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi, to name a few. During our childhood days in late 1950s in West Bengal we were told had Netaji (Subhas Chandra Bose) been there, he would have run the country by military. We had then high esteem for military based on our high esteem for Netaji. The past has come back with vengeance. However, the late 1950s did not show its image for early 2020. Democracy is hardly understood by innocent people in Bharat – they understand own family and they understood family dynasty. Now they understand political duopoly/monopoly. They cannot be made to understand that they provided the objective basis of history – they remained the consequence of history – never tried to be its cause. Some did not get the chance like Shambook; others did not try like Guhak (all the characters in the Great Epic Ramayana).

Let there be no shocks for my readers. India is a land of patron-client social relations – “social distancing’’ was always there manifested in unnumbered ways like “caste distancing’’ and all that. In the Heartland the bottommost caste people and ad hoc workers remain lip-locked. So, Corona has imposed nothing new for all these Guhaks and Shambooks. They are yet to be Corona-tested, medically speaking, but their chance may come much late and these people are happy going untested. They live their life unquestioning and untested. They live local, work local – but not vocal. They work in silence. They are hardly bothered about unlocking – if they understand it. It is for the state to make them understand in aberrations.               

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

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Jul 3, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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