Nation-State and Lockdown: Where do we stand now?

Bhaskar Majumder

The latest news on 7th June is India stood 5th by ranking based on the number of deaths of individuals affected by Corona virus. Being state report as received from medical professionals, it must be taken seriously. India may not be far away from topmost position if all the 1300 million population is Corona-tested. The state is willing and capacitated to do it for the Constitution of India has pledged to keep “we, the people of India’’ safe. One person remaining non-tested may lead to more seeds and more Corona plants. The state initiated CAA and all that for whole population – door to door – now it does the similar job and more valuable by being life-saving.

I shall abstain from the nature of the state as I shall abstain from the nature of the nation for the time being. The sunrise fact is all the untouchables are being tested to make sure the touchables are safe. There is no principle of exclusion. Some of the returnee migrant workers in different states may not feel comfortable but paying the non-money price of quarantine and getting tested. Who can bypass the state Octopus?

One or two issues I would like to mention for today’s discourse based of course on partial information for primary survey could not be conducted. One aspect is the relation between the village non-migrant residents and the village migrant workers. What was telephonically understood was differentiated response and also silence; however, it was understood that the non-migrants were not much happy with the migrants coming back probably carrying Corona, as suspected by the resident non-migrants, hence the welcome to the village was either rude or unwelcome. In states like BUP (Bihar-UP) that are caste-ridden, the established non-migrant thinkers either kept mum of this question or opined half-heartedly that the caste issue withered away because of physiology issue – physical distancing by social distancing. I failed to understand both silence and camouflaging response for social distancing was state-sponsored while caste-distancing was society-practice. I do not mix these two for state Advisory is for society that is caste-neutral for Corona-specific purposes. The BUP society has no reasons to abandon caste for they breathe in that.

The non-migrants and so far unaffected upper layer population in Kolkata do not like the Corona-test to be administered on all the 1300 population for it would require 8-10 years as they opined. They forgot, however, that Census is going to be done next year 2021. Response-differential on a common issue implies culture-differential and not necessarily class distance. Of course, all Census data do not come in the public domain in time.

Public health is a serious issue – the sooner it is realized the better. Public health is different from family health and hence different from the condition of remaining home-locked. We started accusing China for some time for export of the virus and then stopped for non-support from World Health Organization (WHO). The nation also needs some enemy just as the state needs some enemy – the common platform is nationalism-patriotism not by affirmative action but by negation. If the enemy is common then there comes state-national social equilibrium.

Public health is mostly a secret in India that is Bharat. Most of the women at the bottom of the social ladder do not go for medical check up – even if they are dragged, it is already delayed. Most of the elite do not get medical check up at home - India, they go abroad for better care. The footloose workers are time-constrained and cost-incapacitated to go for medical check up. In some regions people at the bottom are afraid of going to the medical practitioners for the risk of being trapped – repetitive visits and pauperization of the patient. Some regular employees in the organized segment of the economy get the chance to prepare prescriptions through the attached doctor to get medical bills to be reimbursed that supplement salary.

Now Corona is a special health class – in Kolkata ordinary patients got hardly any scope to get bed in Hospitals, as recently reported, and the fortunate one had to undergo Corona-test even if it was diarrhoea or fracture of hand. Corona has indeed expanded the scope of the medical domain. But the bigger question is Kolkata and its sub-urban areas are in suffocation for the non-functioning of the cultural clubs, centres of learning, book market that is unparallel in India, the assembly of people in Coffee house and tea stalls and common gatherings like in fish market. Corona-tests and creation of fear killed all by sponsored social distancing. Often 144 imposition if silence is violated – what is not often understood is silence itself is a violence.

Most of the people in West Bengal have stopped questioning that was in the blood of the Bengali – they seem to be in fear. It has been injected through videos and other methods that Bengali will be extinct (Bilupto) if they continue to go to fish-vegetables market. In between Amphan had a distress impact – whether or not assessed by the Centre-engaged Expert Committee – that prompted some to violate the condition of remaining home-locked and reach coastal Sundarvan region in South 24 Parganas to provide food-cash support to the affected people. Most of these followed the actions of the non-state actors. But the problems remained – they did not know if they were supposed to remain home-locked or state-locked or country-locked.

Here came the question – confusion. While in the Heartland it was caste in the midst of Corona, in Kolkata it was confusion in the midst of double burden – Corona-Amphan. Politics of election has not surfaced yet, but if winter comes, can spring be far behind? Already the state of Bihar has started it – campaign. So it is a C word – confusion here and campaign there, caste here and Corona there.

Corona has made the social structure further complex – much more than what was understood pre-Corona. It showed a point of inflexion on the social curve – a point of no return like accept your neighbours or reject them and no scope for social pick and choose for it is Corona-decided and not liking-disliking decided. The persons linguistically less competent have started announcing in Kolkata, “aar ekta dharaa poreche’’ (one more has been caught) and in the Heartland “ek paakar gaya’’ (one person has been caught) – as if a thief (Corona virus affected) has been caught red handed notwithstanding some support for the thief in Bankim Chandra’s Kamalakaanter Daftar. Corona seems to have been living in the blood now – it is now more than the probable extinction of Bengali – it has encompassed the whole population home-locked in India in compliance of the state mandate.

My humble submission as a non-medical non-intelligent person is, once you open up to a medical practitioner in a time of general crises, multiple diseases inevitably will be diagnosed like the opening of a car in a motor garage. Given a choice, most of the working population will keep doctor-distancing other than what I experienced in Kolkata long back that the employees of some factories being sent to ESI Hospitals and some affiliated doctors and I used to be in close proximity to listen to the types of diseases reported not to be mentioned here. I found a general doctor-patient medical equilibrium then. Now post-Corona and 50 years ahead in history, they need to come out in fresh air to see Dono Polyo (Sun-Moon). Let people live in non-Corona – culturally.        

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

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Jun 11, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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