If the idea of a nationwide speech during the outbreak of an epidemic was to make sure that people didn’t panic, weren’t hoarding essentials and clarify the limited functions of a lockdown, then the speech by our Prime Minister seems to have fairly done the opposite. Our nation state runs on migrant labour and engagement at different levels, from students to services. The migrant force is also crucial in the functioning delivery system of essentials. Those away from home weren’t even given a twelve hour window to reconsider their decisions, in case they had dependents back home without any kind of help or back up plan.
There are people walking back on feet to nearby towns and there are who can’t. There are people stuck without having had enough time to prepare and there are people who are dependent on other family members to prepare. The announcement of this decision towards the end of the month when people actually do not have enough money to plan and stock up supplies, tells you how much our leaders run on the semantics of romanticism. There are workers and students stuck away from home without support arranged in time. They couldn’t have planned across geographies, in four hours. And these are the basic complications just on the receiving end, if one were thinking about the essentials.
With the government deciding that companies and distributors selling essentials may keep functioning, we’ve conveniently forgotten that those physically moving essentials from warehouses to distributors, distributors to stores and stores to homes are mostly non local labourers. Many running small locality grocery stores are also migrants. The entire system making sure that essentials be available are largely dependent on migrant labour.
And the ‘Essentials’ system has become fuzzy overnight for three reasons. One, most of them have probably left their work cities overnight and hopefully made it home. Two, those running these stores or delivering, may not always live in their workplace proximities and can’t travel. They’re stuck at home. Three, the police paroling and screening small stores for valid and dated license to sell ‘groceries’ have already shut down, fearing consequences. Not because they may not possess a license altogether but the way in which their businesses may have been articulated may be different from the term ‘Groceries’. It could be ‘Every day food items’ or ‘Packed food and food related items’ or ‘Fresh food and food items’.
And this explains why your local store has either shut down or cannot tell you when the next wave of supplies can make it to your locality. Those who link these flows of commodities together have been left lost and stranded and those who could have stepped in intermediately to buffer till we had a backup have been shut for close to a month. This leaves small businesses, migrant labourers, those hoping to keep basic supplies in place and those hoping to not panic, in panic.
Consequently, the incoherence of the everyday interstices between the local, legal and municipal functioning, have left people confused. People are looking for more supplies and hoarding, aggressively squabbling over last packets and at worst, they’re left without support, money and supplies. They’ve been bereft of tangible and proximal forms of care and support. There’s then a serious chance of actually losing people to a host of other things before Covid-19 takes anymore.
The Prime Minister’s idea of our nation-state, is a social problem as much as a political one. He jumped over these deeply interconnected problems which could culminate to serious issues. He forgets that while people may unite to clamour vessels and clap in solidarity with emotional zeal, the differential access to essentials for the same reason is perfectly capable of inciting violence, anger and panic. The PM’s speech should have ideally come twenty-four hours before it did, giving enough time to anticipate and prepare. But then we’re forgetting something, there seems to a pattern to the Prime Minister’s spectacle of horror.
If you’re quick to forget, then recollect how demonetization was announced and what it unleashed.