Subalterns in India facing Two Pandemics

Arup Kumar Sen

The Italian Marxist thinker, Antonio Gramsci, used the term “subaltern” when referring to subordinate social groups or classes.

The national lockdown in the wake of spread of the coronavirus has aggravated the plight of subalterns in India. The class dimensions of the ‘Social Distancing’ policy being pursued by the government have also become evident. To put it in the words of Ela R. Bhatt (The Indian Express, May 6, 2020):

“…in a country like India, where the urban poor live on the streets, in slums, or cheek-by-jowl in one and two-room housing; where their limited supply of water must be fetched from community water taps; and where hundreds use the few neighbourhood toilets, it is nearly impossible to implement what is paradoxically called social distancing, vigorous hand washing and vigilant decontamination.

Similarly, for millions of daily-wage earners, migrant workers, and self- employed workers, staying home is just not an option. A day without work is a day without food…They are victims of two pandemics, one medical and the other economic”.

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May 11, 2020

Arup Sen

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