Dear Leftists & Liberals, Don’t be Covid/Lockdown Deniers

We are frustrated by the hunger, disparity and isolation that is staring at us in the face. We have never seen such nakedness. My mother recently told me over the phone that ‘corona’ is the first word that comes to her mind when she wakes up and it brings along images of mass unemployment, persons stuck in abusive homes, hunger and death in isolation. She wakes up to this everyday. She is terrified. For herself and others. We all are.

Add to this the persecution of students, activists, scholars, doctors (persons any sane society would hold dear, especially in these times) by the state and its lackadaisical response to the woes of the most marginalized. It seems to us that this lockdown is the end of the world as we know it. And we are not able to ‘move’, mobilize, and protest to save it.

But, difficult as it is, we cannot let fear turn us into unscientific fools whose demands are based on ‘feelings’ and overlook facts. And whose facts are placed out of context in an argument. That is the work of those who walk towards the other direction from the center.

There are several articles doing the rounds online which present arguments for ‘Opening the Society’ and ending the lockdown despite the continuing spread of the plague. These articles are authored by all kinds of people, from presidents of economic associations, general practitioners, mediocre academics to activists, students and others. They can be found in finance magazines, political blogs, health and wellness platforms but never in any respected public health journal. They are being shared by many, young and old, those on the left and on the right alike and they present ‘simple arguments’ and ‘simple solutions’. Here are 10 reasons why you should be skeptical of such unfounded/unspecific buffoonery.

  1. These articles use Sweden as an example because it did not enforce a lockdown to rally for ending the lockdown in other countries. Sweden has a population of just over 10 million and one of the best healthcare systems in the world (In the top 5). Pharma companies in Sweden were not only able to manufacture Ventilators for the hospitals in the country, they could even send across hundreds to other countries in solidarity. How can one take this scandanavian-washed argument seriously with respect to the third world?
  2. The articles all quote numbers around 20% as statistics for persons tested v/s persons found covid positive to make it seem like the spread is not that enormous. But they never delve into the capacity of the health care systems as far as care for even those 20% is concerned. (Support here entails basic medical care, isolation facilities, ventilators in case the condition of the patient worsens.) In India’s context, we also have to account for availability of tests, medical centres, affordability, access to information- for a large population.
  3. They all compare Covid-19 to a common flu and that should be indicator enough to not pay them any heed.
  4. None of the articles list any reasons why governments are continuing the lockdown even though there are legitimate arguments for ‘opening the society’. It’s because there are none. The only reason why authoritarian right wing governments like India’s, US’s, UK’s or Brazil’s are not opening the society is because they are aware that if the crisis were to get out of hand (which it can very easily given the contagious nature of the virus), the chaos would not just topple their governments but turn society upside down to the point where it cannot be governed. This won’t be a revolution, it will be annihilation.
  5. None of these articles pay any attention towards marginalized communities who are generally at conflict with health care systems. They do not account for the consequences for disabled persons, persons with mental health conditions, the elderly, queer and trans folx, low income groups, pregnant women, migrants, drug users, dalits, malnutritioned persons, coloured folx etc. who find themselves persecuted rather than supported by health institutions. How will they access healthcare in a full blown pandemic?
  6. They don’t provide any reasons why governments would go against their vote banks who are not happy with the lockdown either. The global economy is on its knees. And yet if ‘supremacy and development’ obsessed Prime Ministers and Presidents are speaking the language of ‘life over economy’, it clearly means they don’t have any other words to use.
  7. They over-simplify co-morbidities (when death is caused by two or more complications) and allege that countries are over-reporting deaths. ‘He would have died anyways, covid wasn’t the sole killer’. These theories (or rather assumptions) speak the language of collateral damage and denial of responsibility, a language that belongs not to public health but to necropolitics. In the Indian context, it is the language that the state speaks while justifying coercive measures (blaming overreporting of police violence during pogroms), it is the language that the army speaks while defending its cruelty in Kashmir, Manipur, Chhattisgarh and other militarized zones (if we don’t occupy them, someone else will). It is the language of death, not of life. Of abandonment, not of care. Also, in the Indian context, over reporting of morbidities makes no sense (our numbers are too low). If at all, we are underreporting deaths.
  8. These articles use the argument of attack on civil liberties to attract the left. The allegation is true: civil liberties have taken a hit under the covid crisis. But, is ending the lockdown the only plausible solution? The need of the hour is to build a movement to allow on-ground protest while observing distancing during the lockdown. We should rally for protests being declared as an essential service to democracy. Alongside, Civil Society Organizations must brainstorm ways for continuing the resistance, we must find ways of holding courts responsible even during the crisis, conduct trainings for the public and grassroots workers on internet based mobilization, exercise the instruments available at home to rally for justice eg. the internet, RTIs etc. This is the time to build new modes of resistance, not remain chained to what we already know.
  9. Some articles written in India talk about the hunger crisis and how it will end with the lockdown. The hunger crisis is not just a result of the lockdown, it is manufactured by the way in which the lockdown was implemented. That damage is done. The government must immediately open food reserves, demilitarize and use that money to feed the hungry, end all weapons buying, stop unnecessary infrastructure construction, work out the logistics for delivering ration to the marginalized etc. There is enough food in the country (there are many reports on this), what is starving people is the anti-poor politics of the BJP.
  10. Next time you read a report which quotes percentages of people who are likely to die if we open the society, and calls it a ‘miniscule’ loss, just do the math with respect to India’s population and then multiply it by 50 given the chaos that will ensue. And then wonder, if that’s a fair price to pay for ‘herd immunity’. Also wonder about who will pay that price.

The problem of unemployment is a grievous one. However, the solution cannot be putting the lives of millions of people in danger and watching who survives. Demanding that we must ‘open the society’ without thinking through the consequences of the same puts us in the same category as the right that ‘acts first, thinks later’. We know that the cost of such actions is always borne by the most marginalized. It is our responsibility to not just ‘turn back time’ but lean into the despair and use that vulnerability to construct a new world.

As for resistance under lockdown, resistance will survive. If not, it will be born again.

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Esthappen Written by:

Esthappen works with the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network and writes queer plays.

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