These incidents also suggest that during these times of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are cultivating and mobilising fears and anxieties that erode human qualities such as sensitivity, concern and care (seva) from our individual and social self. These fears project our own compatriots as our possible enemies and we are trying to save ourselves from any contact with our own people. Eminent post-modernist thinker Giorgio Agamben while investigating coronavirus
crisis rightly opined that we are turning into a society which has no value, other than survival. He further said that the coronavirus condition is transforming us into a society, which no longer believes in any thing but 'bare life'. We are losing friendships, affections, religious and political convictions.
Taking a clue from Agamben, we can even say that as human beings we are nowhere, only our machine produced and internet, smartphone circulated messages are everywhere. Our human responsibilities have been reduced to mere messages on social sites and smartphones.
The fear of 'getting sick' makes us more selfish and self-centered. Agamben rightly observed that fear is a poor advisor. Bare life and the fear of losing it is not something that unites people but blinds and separates them. Prime Minister Narendra Modi perhaps hinted at something similar when he appealed people to practice social distancing but emotional closeness. This emotional closeness may save human nature and humanity in our beings in this time of crisis.
The recent incidents with poor migrant workers that we have witnessed during this lockdown
shows that we are not according proper human and civilised treatment to them, neither in their homeland nor in their home state. Recently in Siwan district of Bihar, returning migrants who had somehow managed to reach their home district were put in a small space locked by an iron gate in very infectious conditions. They cried and appealed for rescue the entire night. They were taken out and taken to isolation centers in their respective panchayat aboard trucks, packed like cargo.
These incidents only highlight how we don't consider the poor as valuable human beings. They are just possible carriers of a deadly pandemic. Compare this to how the government brought back stranded NRIs from Covid-19 affected countries like China. The Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar also opined that the movement of the migrant workers will break the lockdown and disseminate the disease. These very migrants help their home state by sending money back home, money earned through their hard work but now they find that governments have turned their backs on them and treat them as vectors while putting them under constant surveillance.
Theoretically speaking, the situation of migrant labour in India emerging out of the coronavirus crisis is unique. Neither Adam Smith's theory of labour value in capitalism nor Marx's concept of labour power help us in explaining or understanding this situation.
Only post-modernist theoreticians such as Foucalt and Giorgio Agamben's notions of bio-politics of the state may help us understand it but even they do not fully apply to this situation. Only the Agambenian notion of a biological body, the notion of bare life with no human value attached to it can seemingly explain this situation and behaviour.
As the country grapples with coronavirus, hopefully we will not lose our sense of human value, dignity and respect for our fellowmen. Coronavirus may infect our bodies but must not be allowed to infect our hearts and minds.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal. They do not reflect the view/s of Business Standard.