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A New Virus: Deadlier than COVID-19?

Updated: May 18, 2020

If you roll the clock back mere weeks and look at the condition India was in, it was almost a given that protests against the controversial citizenship amendment act and the national register of citizens would continue in full force until our executive recalled both policies or they were successfully challenged by our judiciary. Yet today, as COVID-19, rightfully so, dominates most headlines, people seem to have forgotten about the potency of these policies and the wrath of the Hindutva machinery which continues to plow through the very fabric of our constitution, leaving behind tall piles of rubble saturated with the blood of youth, minorities, the educated, the poor, and the marginalized. 

As the country as a whole stands in the middle of a crisis, and the common man has lost all semblance of security, worried by unemployment, economic precarity, and even starvation, it becomes easier for the administration to thrust forward legislation and action that may have otherwise been subject to the disapproval of the people. This phenomenon, called ‘The Shock Doctrine’ was first proposed by Canadian journalist Naomi Klein as she observed the tendency of the political class in countries around the world to “use social catastrophes as a distraction that facilitates the smooth sailing of both unseemly political agendas and private plunder.”

When applied to the Indian theater, the model seems to fit all too well. When one focuses on daily emergencies and the acquisition of a basal level of sustenance for their family, they tend to place an unreasonable level of trust in authority. This allows the usage of these scenarios to implement public policies that deepen inequality and benefit only those who fit in the government’s mold of ideality. This is the start of the problem because situations like this are the most crucial time to hold the government responsible for the rigidity of the healthcare system, or the lack thereof.

It almost seems like a godsend for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The virus acted as an invisible hand working in tandem with the machinery of the government, clearing up dozens of physical sit-in protest sites that symbolized the resistance to the government’s mandates. The Delhi Police, just days after the infamous anti-muslim pogrom, under the administration of the ‘honorable’ home minister Mr. Amit Shah used this boon to clear out the proceedings at Shaheen Bagh- the epicenter of nationwide protests against the CAA. Few have reported on what took place at the site of these protests after they were evacuated. Government machinery, literally this time, tore down the empty protest sites along with their posters, sculptures, banners, and graffiti. Yes, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic which has killed more people than the population of multiple countries, the administration was busy making sure pro-secularist, pro-equality and pro-Indian sentiments would not be ignited again. This, instead of putting in place robust plans to make sure the people of this great country are fed and are alive.

In these times of irrational overnight shutdowns, lackadaisical testing, and rampant poverty and job-loss, the general populace of this country has shut down and become so disoriented that events that would have typically warranted protests have become the new normal - with insignificant levels of backlash. Yes, this opportunistic government is exploiting a global public health crisis to further its own neo-fascist agenda. Let us look at a few, nonisolated incidents.

In early March, the religious gatherings of Tablighi Jamaat were used by the BJP and its puppets as a poster child for its islamophobic movement. These same people have since turned to communalize a truly unfortunate lynching incident in Maharashtra. 

In the 2020 global press freedom index, India dropped two positions to be placed finally at 142nd out of 180 countries. A state which prides itself on the freedom it gives to its citizens and private entities, places in the bottom quartile for journalistic freedom. Why? The police are fiercely targeting journalists and political pundits for shedding light on the government’s bounty of failures in these trying times. On April 11th, UP police drove near 700 kilometers to deliver a summons to the founding editor of The Wire for reporting on the ‘honorable’ home minister Amit Shah’s attendance of a religious gathering in violation of lockdown protocol. This is the same Amit shah who did not hesitate to slander Islam as a doctrine following Tablighi Jamaat and his previous statements labeling Muslims a green virus: one which is his mind holds more power than this coronavirus.

On April 14th, activists and public intellectuals, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha, were arrested under draconian pro-government acts for their ‘dissenting views.’ A respected lawyer in Gujarat was charged with ‘hate speech’ for a sarcastic tweet. ‘Terrorism’ charges were levied against two students at Jamia Millia Islamia for their ‘premeditated conspiracy’ to overthrow the government. Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra was booked for posting pictures that could ‘incite public unrest’. Gowhar Geelani was charged with similar ‘crimes’ for posting an ‘Anti-National’ social media post.

At this point, it is clear. COVID-19 is not the biggest problem in our hands. COVID-19 is just the shock. The doctrine exploiting the people in this time of trauma is the doctrine of Hindutva. As millions of people struggle to secure their next meal due to the lack of proper ration distribution and ineffective lockdown protocol, all the executive can think about, and all the state-funded media houses can talk about, is how to strengthen their foothold in their fight against anyone who disagrees with them. They do not plan to win this fight through democratic means, promoting free speech and debate, but instead by limiting the freedom of expression, of dissent, and by making all voices but their own inaudible.

Author : Madhav Prakash

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