George Floyd’s last words, ‘I can’t breathe’, echo the fate of every person infected with the coronavirus. Today a hate virus as well as a bio-lethal virus, does not allow us to breathe easy. While the COVID-19 pandemic is taking our breath away, we can’t hold our breath and see how a virus of hate is refusing to die. Often virus of hate and discrimination combined with obnoxious coronavirus is suffocating several among us to death. It seems that the lethal virus has played a bad joke over us and we do not know where we are heading. Maybe the dying of the political and media usage of the metaphor of the war on coronavirus indicates our plight. We seem to have lost our plot as we have completely changed our goal post and moved from primacy of lives to primacy of livelihoods. Things have become worse as we have successfully made a deadly connection between hate ridden nationalism, racism, and sinophobia and our response to the global pandemic.
Our society is also gasping for breath and life today. Somehow we too seem to be feeling the weight of the knee on our necks like Floyd. Some of us are choked and cannot breathe while others are afraid that the weight of the knee will soon come on their necks and cut off their air. While we can trace several George Floyd moments in our country when it came to the manner in which the police operationalised the lockdown, we are also concerned about the manner in which our Government has tried to conduct a medical response to the condition of the pandemic. It has literally put the knee on our necks making it difficult to stay away from coronavirus.
The pressure of the knee on our neck has taken several forms. From the premature opening of the lockdowns to failure of ramping up the testing as well as treatment facilities, we can see how ordinary people have been subject to the crushing knee on their necks. It is estimated that 80% of our health infrastructure is in private hands. This is why it has become very difficult to treat thousands of covid-19 patients in the Government hospital at the scale of the pandemic. This and for other reasons, it seems to me that we already had the knee raised on our necks, and the pandemic became the precipitating point that brought it over our necks making it next to impossible to breathe in this time of great human distress. The kind of neo-liberal policies that we have followed to build our economic systems somehow can stand for the knee that is crushing our necks. We may name ‘communal liberalism’ to refer to a process that implements neoliberalism in our country with a heavy cocktail of hate ridden nationalism. It follows neoliberal polices by implementing privation of key state assets, and imposing deep cuts on social spending, and down-sizing budgetary allocations on health care, and education in the interest of the corporate elites.
But there is a silver lining in the cloud. It seems that the lethal virus has put its knee on the neck of the kind of neoliberal capitalism that we have blindly embraced. It is also struggling to breathe. The very system that has made sure that we cannot afford the health care we need in the present crises is now finding itself in a dark tunnel that does not seem to show light at the end of it. The already ailing economy of our country is now fighting for life in the ICU. The working class has been pushed into huge distress. More and more people are getting jobless by the day. Factories and other businesses are fast closings unable to sustain the lack of demand in the market. All in all, we are becoming impoverished.
But the knee that suffocates our present economic system is transferred on the necks of the people by the economic elite. This is why the people literarily have to deal with the double weight that is threatening to take our breath away. We all face the rise of disaster capitalism along with a disaster virus. The cocktail is obnoxiously lethal. The disaster capitalism seems to be using the very shock that this double disaster has inflicted on us to further strengthen the elite minority that was already enjoying more than three-fourths of the economic pie. Take the case of Goa, the shock of the pandemic and consequent economic crisis has made us mum and tolerant to excesses of mining that was brought to a halt by the decision of the Supreme Court. Some people even murmur in isolated corners that the Government did not put Vasco into lockdown only to allow coal imports and iron ore exports. Thus Government has successfully put the precious lives of people at risk for what they may defend as promotion of livelihood.
This is precisely revealed by Canadian scholarly journalist, Noami Klein in her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She teaches that after a shocking event like a war coup, a terrorist attack, a market crash, or natural disasters, Governments exploit public disorientation and push through radical policies that only benefit the economic elite at the expense of the poor and the middle class. She calls this policy of the Governments: shock doctrine. It appears that we are put on a shock doctrine path in the face of this global pandemic. This is why we need to choose critical alertness that would enable us to resist attempts to push another knee on our already crushed necks. This other knee can be easily masked as being aimed at the fixing of our ailing economy. Jayanti Gosh, an economist from JNU describes our Government’s response to the pandemic as disaster authoritarianism.
We certainly do not have easy options that can become quick fixes for all our problems for now. Perhaps we need a quantum leap that brings about a new organization of the global as well as national economic orders. To stay alert and to resist disaster capitalism that is being further imposed on us, we have to filter the media propaganda that has become a tool of the economic elites and their political masters. This is why we must understand what a state of shock is. Klein teaches that the state of a shock is an event without a narrative. Hence, we must critically watch and examine the narratives that are produced to explain to us the condition of shock. This is a little more complex in the age of fake news where truth itself has become an enemy.
But we have no choice. We cannot allow our Governments to enact shock doctrine. This would spell disaster for us. This is why it is critical that we unite and resist the implementation of the shock doctrine in our society. We have to fast become shock resistant and see through the game plan of those who benefit from riots, lynching and hate in our society. We cannot allow the shock of coronavirus also to be used to further the interest of the elites that are lurking around only to prey on it. Time is running and we cannot let the economic elites and their political agents divide us with narrow supremacist nationalism that does not deliver us what has been portrayed as ‘ache din’. Let us unite. We have nothing to lose but our chains. We have to resist the path of shock doctrine that might slip in new exploitation in the name of post-corona reconstruction. We need social protection and not austerity measures that take them away to fight corona. It is only with strengthened social protection that we may step into a new post-corona world.