Mohd Owais Saleem
Has lockdown led the marginalized or many other groups of India to severe alienation during COVID-19? Is it affecting the lives of groups and individuals? Being a student of sociology, this question always strikes me hard. Having been born and brought up in Delhi, it has been observed that the lives of people living in the city are an obvious and classic case of “social alienation.” They work hard to meet their basic needs and their never-ending desires have made them a stranger to the person living in their neighbourhood. Hence, “social alienation” — a condition in social relationships is reflected by a low degree of integration or common values, and a high degree of distance or isolation between individuals or between an individual and a group of people in a community or work environment as defined by many classic sociologists.
Marx’s theory of Alienation is articulated most clearly in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and The German Ideology of 1846, where he defined “Human Alienation” as the third element of Alienation. So in a society like Delhi, no one knows what others go through in their day-to-day life; as a result, all families depend on themselves for survival. Already having this type of alienation, Delhi is now also facing “lockdown alienation.” There are so many people who work in the informal sector and earn less to survive. Likewise, there are so many migrant laborers who work on a daily wage basis, and their source of income is only their labor which they can sell and earn to survive.
In Delhi, there are various “Chowks” in different areas where every morning a number of laborers come and sit with their basic equipment to sell their labour. People who need labourers for work go and bring labourers according to their needs from those “Chowks” and pay them in the evening. And there are domestic female workers who work on a monthly basis in different houses and earn for their survival. And there are also many people who stay in rented flats, and some people who have their houses but work on daily wages, like OLA and UBER Cab drivers who work on a daily payment basis.
Alienation can mean the incautiousness of society as a whole to the individuality of each member of society. Has the Indian government taken the lockdown decision unresponsively? I say this because many social groups in India are facing many socioeconomic challenges due to the lockdown decision. Although lockdown is the right decision of the government to fight against COVID-19, the way it has been implemented is questionable. When a “collective decision” is made it is usually impossible for the unique needs of each individual to be taken into account.
A “collective decision” is very important when you make a decision for a group of people. So, the question that arises now is, has the state taken the “collective decision” of a lockdown or is it just a “single agenda decision”? To fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not hard to accept the fact that COVID-19 is posing a very huge challenge to the world and as well as India, and lockdown is one of the most effective strategies to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. But, is Indian society and its challenges the same as in other countries? Here I am not talking about the current pandemic situation.
I am talking about the challenges that already exist among the different marginalized and backwards groups of India. Are we aware that poverty is one of the biggest challenges of India? Were these challenges not taken into account by the government while enforcing lockdown? Lockdown has been announced and implemented within a few hours, as it seems to the common people, but surely it was not. It makes one question why the government has not taken the decision wisely, considering the challenges India is already grappling with. They should be aware of multitudes of migrant labourers in Delhi and other parts of India, people who work on daily wage basis and not having any savings for tomorrow, people who live in big metropolitan cities on rent, domestic lady workers, and also people who are engaged in different types of work on the daily wage system.
The above-discussed issues clearly establish that there is severe social alienation in society due to the seemingly hastily implemented lockdown. Now they all are under lockdown, severely impacting their livelihood. They had no prior plan ready for the lockdown as nobody knew this was going to come at this level and so instantly. Although lockdown is for the protection of the citizens, migrant labourers have been forced to vacate factories and site residences by the owners. Domestic lady workers asked not to come for work. Cab drivers cannot drive as no one is on the road. So imagine the problems being faced by these groups. No money to buy ration to feed their kids. There are landlords who entirely depend upon the rent and if tenants do not have the rent to pay, landlords shall face the problem. Another scenario is that some landlords who are not totally dependent upon the rent for their survival would not ask rent in this lockdown period and will take in instalments after the period is over. Will the tenant be able to pay the increased amount of previous months’ rent? Or if they do so how they will manage their other basic needs.
Visuals have started coming out on social media which clearly show people committing suicide due to hunger. “Lockdown Alienation” is the new challenge for Indian society and the government, and the government must address the issue sooner than later. The situation would have been different if the government had been pragmatic enough to deal with existing challenges in society before taking the decision. One important thing the government should understand is that this situation is not only affecting the migrant labourers but it is also affecting farming and various informal sectors. The government should take some simple steps to avoid the crisis: they should ask factory owners not to compel labourers to vacate their residences and the government must take care of their survival needs. They need to identify people who are daily wage earners at different levels of the informal sector.
* Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich (1976), German Ideology, Moscow, Progress Publishers.
* Marx, Karl (1977), Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts, Moscow, Progress Publishers, p. 1-90.
* Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich (1975), Collected Works Vol 111, Moscow, Progress Publishers, p.100-180.
Mohd Owais Saleem is a research scholar at Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi and is working on the topic of Pedagogy – Madarasa Education & Muslim Private Schools. He did his Masters in Sociology from Jamia.