It is inevitable that the virus will spread anywhere people gather in numbers.
India went for the world’s toughest lockdown in March, when just about 500 Covid-19 cases had been reported. And it has started withdrawing the lockdown when India has become the seventh-worst pandemic-affected nation, with over 1.91 lakh infections and close to 5,500 deaths. India is registering giant spikes in active cases of Covid-19, but the home ministry has come out with a phased plan to unlock India. The current phase of re-opening will focus on the economy. It has been decided that malls, hotels, restaurants and places of worship will reopen from 8 June onwards.
Concerns over the economic downturn are understandable. The latest GDP data shows the slowest pace of growth in 11 years in the last quarter of 2019-20, and the economy has been hit hard by the Covid-inspired sudden and complete lockdown. But one fails to understand the decision to open religious places at such an early date.
It remains unanswered whether religious places are being thrown open to pre-empt Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, who has announced that her state would open all places of worship from 1 June. It is also not known whether this is being done, as BS Yediyurappa, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, wrote in his letter to the Prime Minister, because devotees are insisting that religious sites be opened.
Under the condition of lockdown while we are confronted with images and accounts of the suffering of the labouring poor, and all around us there appears to be a pervasive social chaos, in our universities students and teachers are supposed to return to an atomized life condition, and essentially pursue academic work as if all is normal. Teachers and students are expected to simply ignore wider public responsibilities and recoil to their private window to online teaching-learning. The diktats of university bureaucracies that have been issued in the midst of tremendous socio-economic crisis reduce teachers to a role akin to those of musicians who continued to entertain on the sinking Titanic. Now, after the formalities of so-called online education have been fulfilled, a specter of online examinations haunts the wider student community.
Disappearance of education in the online mode
The pronouncements of Delhi University (DU) regarding online examinations for its final year students of undergraduate and postgraduate (Masters) courses, have added to the anxieties of large number of students and teachers, who have been grappling with a disrupted semester in the wake of the lockdown, and the stupendous challenges of online teaching-learning. More or less, institutions of higher education across the country are facing this predicament. The grim situation warrants a close scrutiny of the concerns of teachers and students about e-learning and online examinations.
On the occasion of the birth anniversary of Karl Marx, the greatest intellectual of the millennium, it is best to steer clear of hero-worshipping. Instead, let us commemorate Marx’s ideas by re-enacting his way of knowing things. Much can be drawn from his writings wherein we can see Marx reinvigorating the revolutionary agenda at a time of deep despair and defeat. Reflecting and writing after the failed revolutions of 1848, Marx provided an introspective critique of unfolding conditions in his essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852). Closely examining the events of the successful coup and assumption of dictatorial powers by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in republican France in 1851, Marx was the only contemporaneous political thinker to liken the ascendancy of Louis-Bonaparte to that of his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, who seized power in revolutionary France through the coup of 18 Brumaire (7 November 1799).
[This is the first part of a two-part series on ‘society at the time of Covid-19’]
‘An elephant was attacked by a house cat. Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff in panic and dies.’ – Anonymous
‘The idea of the self-sufficient character of science (“science for science’s sake”) is naive: it confuses the subjective passions of the professional scientist, working in a system of profound division of labour, in conditions of a disjointed society, in which individual social functions are crystallised in a diversity of types, psychologies, passions …. The fetishising of science, as of other phenomena of social life, and the deification of the corresponding categories is a perverted ideological reflex of a society in which the division of labour has destroyed the visible connection between social function, separating them out in the consciousness of their agents as absolute and sovereign values.’ – Nikolai Bukharin, 1931
The specter of Covid-19 is haunting India and many other countries in the world. As the fear of the novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) grips India, and draconian state measures unleash havoc on the poor, it is imperative to trace back the clock so as to fully comprehend the underlying thrust of the current paranoia. Who have been carriers of the disease into India and what was done to identify and contain them? Whose paranoia is determining state policy? And are we possibly witnessing an ‘over-reaction’ shaped by the anxiety of upper classes? These questions imply the need, in class terms, for a closer scrutiny of the reasons behind the declaration of the pandemic.
Economist Jean Dreze, Kavita Krishnan of the CPI(ML) and the All India Progressive Women’s Association, Maimoona Mollah of the All India Democratic Women’s Association and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People’s Movements released the following report to the press today, 14 August 2019, after spending five days in Kashmir, meeting and talking to people.
We spent five days (9-13 August 2019) traveling extensively in Kashmir. Our visit began on 9 August 2019 – four days after the Indian government abrogated Articles 370 and 35A, dissolved the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated it into two Union Territories.
When we arrived in Srinagar on 9 August, we found the city silenced and desolated by curfew, and bristling with Indian military and paramilitary presence. The curfew was total, as it had been since 5th August. The streets of Srinagar were empty and all institutions and establishments were closed (shops, schools, libraries, petrol pumps, government offices, banks). Only some ATMs and chemists’ shops – and all police stations – were open. People were moving about in ones and twos here and there, but not in groups.