365 Days of Violence: Kashmir

5th July marks a year long anniversary of the Indian imposed lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir. With the abrogation of Article 370 (a provision in the Indian constitution giving a special status to J&K) and a prolonged paramilitary occupation through the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Kashmir has been subjected to constant violence, terror, and authoritarianism.

The actual history of the post-colonial integration of the princely state of J&K is, in itself, riddled with controversies. In brief, India ‘acquired’ Kashmir through rigged elections, manipulation of the Kashmiri government, and blatant disregard for Kashmiri’s calls for an Azad (free) Kashmir.

Since then, India has strived to legitimize its military rule in Kashmir through careful ‘othering’ of the Kashmiris and misrepresentation of the issue in mainstream Indian media.

Here is a list of the violence caused by the militarization of Kashmiri borders:

  • Proliferation of ‘fake encounters’ and arbitrary killings by the police officials . What are ‘fake encounters’? These are arbitrary killings of innocent Kashmiris by the hands of the police officials. These killings are then fabricated as a defense against Islamic fundamentalism and a fight against jihadist terrorism. Innocent people are kidnapped from their homes, killed for bounty by police officials, and are then depicted as terrorists who needed to be killed.
  • Violent McCarthyism. The language used to instruct the AFSPA is charged with violence and religious profiling. See: “‘fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area’ if that officer believes it necessary ‘for the maintenance of public order.’”
  • Internet shutdown and severe violations to freedom of speech. During a time when the entire world is dependent on the internet for their education, jobs, and seeing loved ones, Kashmiris are forced to live under internet blackout. The aforementioned McCarthyite suppression of free speech means that anyone who protests or speaks out against violence is labeled as a terrorist and instantly persecuted.
  • Overlooked increase in violence against women. Rape as a weapon of war has been excessively used in Kashmir by state policy officials and military personnel. In most cases, sexual violence is used as a tool to silence communities into subjugation. This report by Human Rights Watch provides an analysis of the historical development of violence in Kashmir. Worst of all, the army still enjoys impunity from any crimes committed while stationed in Kashmir.

None of these violations mentioned are endemic to the Kashmir conflict. At moments of distress and instability, the state always acts out to protect its own legitimacy to use force. India, like several other states, has used force repeatedly to legitimize its actions in Kashmir. As stated by Giorgio Agamben: “force becomes transformed from a means to the end of law, into law itself.” Kashmir is, sadly, no exception.

If India really wants Kashmir to accede to integration, it needs to do so through cultural diplomacy and not be a forced paramilitary rule.

So, how can you help?

At the moment, due to extreme militarization of the Kashmiri borders by both India Held Kashmir and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, there is not much we can do directly to help the Kashmiri people.

We can only pressurize India (as well as Pakistan and China – although from my view their intervention is primarily reactionary to India’s control of Kashmir) to withdraw from Kashmir or at least restore internet access and access to basic human rights in the region. We can only use our privilege to be able to speak out to draw attention for those being regularly silenced by the government. #4GforAJK

photo credits: https://scroll.in/article/808556/study-sexual-violence-routinely-used-as-a-weapon-in-conflict-zones-across-south-asia

Creating a Knowledge-Power nexus through Press

The reason I picked up Mein Kampf a month ago was because I wanted to better educate myself on how Nazi Germany repudiated Marxism and attributed it to Semitic intellectualism. But the thing that stood out to me the most from the book was how Hitler fashioned a radical anti-Semitic movement by understanding the importance of the Press during the early 20th century.

From the very beginning, Hitler recognized the immense power of the Press and its role in producing and reproducing ideas in the society. However, he was very wary of the Press during the early part of the 1900s, especially since the Press was primarily dominated by what he described as Marxist and Jewish ideas. These ideas, spread by the press, united the German people through class solidarity as opposed to solidarity on the basis of national identity. He attributed almost all of the negative aspects of the Press – especially their need to ‘fabricate…public opinion’ and hunt for political scandals – to Jewish dominance in the field.

However, Hitler wasn’t immune to the knowledge of how the Press could be moulded to fit his own agenda rather than the Marxist agenda. In fact, he dedicated a considerable section of the second part of his autobiography outlining how the  National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party should use the press to spread the Nazi propaganda. He wanted to wipe the Press clear of any Jewish or Marxist content and use it to spread what he believed to be true and beneficial for strengthening the German identity.

This points to a knowledge/power nexus that has predated Nazi Germany and is even present to this day. Hitler actually drew inspiration from the Ku Klux Klan’s monopolization of knowledge to build on his own pseudoscientific justification for Aryan supremacy. The way he created this knowledge/power nexus was through monopolizing the Press and spreading his ideal truth through pamphlets and posters – a medium that he recognized early on was the best way to attract the attention of the masses.

Similarly, a lot of present day radicalization occurs through creating this same nexus by using a medium that is most influential at this time – digital media.

Cyberspace and cyber technology have of recently become important tools for cultivating digital violence. Popular discourse in the modern age of technology is disseminated through cyberspace. The internet, and especially social media, thus, becomes an important tool of power used by the far-right to radicalize and instill violence into the present-day society.

Not much unlike radicalization by Islamic extremist groups like ISIS, the far-right, too, strives to radicalize and incentivize the youth through social media platforms. The Alt-Right has used conservative platforms like 4chan to post internet ‘memes’ or digital imagery to appeal to the digital culture of the youths. In 2015, a video emerged on 4chan of two shooters involved in the mass shooting of five Black Lives Matters protesters in Minneapolis chanting slogans like ‘stay white’. The surfacing of such videos and slogans in the cyberspace create a platform that is conducive to cyberbullying and degrading the targeted community, which in the previously mentioned case were African Americans.

This culture of bullying can be widely categorized as digital violence which further infringes upon the psychological security of the group that is targeted. In this regard, an act of digital violence extends to foster psychological violence, highlighting the interconnectedness and omnipresence of violence within the actions of far-right movements.

More widely used platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit are also internet avenues that can be utilized in order to radicalize those individuals who are already vulnerable, like young teenagers detached from their own community and looking for an alternative space to be a part of. Far-right YouTube bloggers or online commentators like Milo have created an online discourse that plays on humor to incite the youth against perceived restriction of free speech in liberal ‘safe spaces’ in working environments.

This becomes especially important in instilling violent tendencies in young people, reaching out to them through comicality at the expense of the humanity of others. Individuals are made to believe that their own rights are being stifled as the rights of others expand, making them especially susceptible to carrying out mass-shooting or terrorizing attacks within the country. This showcases how cyberspace can be effectively manipulated to first generate violent discourse, and then, as a result, physical violence, in society. This process is eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s monopolization of print media.

I find these musings to be a warning on how much easier it is to radicalize people now. Algorithms in digital media fashion an infrastructure where the content that you want to view is the content that is shown to you. But the line between censoring hate speech and censoring freedom of expression is easily blurred in this day and age. As someone who has always been skeptical of the inordinate power of the state, at this point in time I do not think that the power to monopolize knowledge and censor expressions should be given to the state. This is an extremely volatile space and the best we can do now is alway be conscious of the content we are consuming.

American fright against Chinese 5G tech stems from western supremacy

The development of 5G technology in Beijing has started a new strand of rivalry between US-China relations.

Huawei – a state-owned technological firm in China which was integrated with a lot of Western corporations – has now come under contestation for leaking sensitive information to China. These accusations have been in tandem with China’s development of 5G technology.

In fact, American insecurity over their own technological developments has transmitted to the West in general – affecting China’s relations with the UK and Canada.

Earlier this year Mike Pence stated in an interview: “we have made it clear to Prime Minister Johnson and to officials in the U.K., that as we expand opportunities to build out 5G across this country … we want to see our companies meet the needs in the United States and U.K. and among all our allies without the compromise of privacy and the compromise of security that necessarily comes with Huawei and control by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Just this week the UK disclosed its decision to ban mobile providers to trade with Huawei starting from December this year. Similar reasons of security concerns were cited for this decision.

While it is true that Western democracy has always been suspicious of what it believes to be autocratic, communist rule; technological innovation – whether pioneered by the US or by China – will always risk compromising intelligence to some extent.

The infamous leak of the NSA files by Edward Snowden is a case in point of how even democratic regimes can exploit their technologies to access intelligence of other countries. Yet, the onus of creating resilient and ‘democratic’ technology systems only falls on Western democracies and other nations simply cannot be trusted.

This hypocrisy is indicative of Western supremacy. The US is so entangled in preserving its role as an international leader in every field that it cannot bear to see China advance in the technology realm.

I will concede that innovations like 5G technologies come with a plethora of security vulnerabilities. In this day and age, technology is advancing a lot faster than our ethical and moral standards for its usage. This means that misuse of such technology is almost inevitable. States are more concerned with the development of technology and with keeping ahead in the self-constructed tech-race than in the development of ethical frameworks for its use.

But alienating China and denouncing its innovations on the basis of security concerns appears, at least to me, as another measure for the West to keep the development of other countries in check.

Ongoing Uighur Muslim genocide in China

More people need to be talking about the Uighur Muslim genocide by the Chinese government. I only ever see this topic come up on news every once in a while and because of Western media’s focus on US-China issues and the growing prominence of Huawei-elicit tech race, the mass genocide of Uighur Muslims in China is lost in the pool of ‘trendy’ news cycles.

This mass genocide initially started as cultural and civil suppression (as most genocides do) in the 1950s and ’60s through government sponsored mass migration of Han Chinese (a different ethnic diaspora in China) to the Xinjiang region where Uighur Muslims are originally from. Since then the government has been carrying out mass forced sterilization, abortion, and cultural elimination programs in the region.

This page on Genocide Watch publishes articles on the atrocities being committed by the Chinese government against the Uighur Muslims. It is in no way exhaustive of the torture that this population has gone through historically with little to no international solidarity but I do think that the articles are worth a read.

There is also a list of corporations that profit off of Chinese ‘re-education’ camps for the Uighur Muslims compiled by the ASPI. These corporations include Nike, Adidas, Puma, Fila – all of which are really famous brands and somehow they are still getting away with profiting off of – and in turn, supporting – a genocide.

Since China is a sovereign and autonomous country (and the West has no vested interest in intervention unless it’s for their personal gains or to establish supremacy) – it’s important that people like you and me start spreading awareness about this issue. There is a plethora of content on the internet and I think that we should engage with it strategically to generate more awareness about human rights abuses that often go neglected and become normalized.

The systematic erasure of the Muslim identity is not an isolated issue and is certainly not endemic to China. I have written repeatedly on the Muslim suppression and violence in India which is a very pressing issue not only because Muslim Indians are being culturally suppressed, but also because it is largely reminiscent of the starting of the Rohingya Muslim crisis in Myanmar. There is also an ongoing erasure of the Palestinian identity. In Israel, as well as in Israeli occupied regions of West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, you have to be Jewish to have your basic human rights acknowledged by the state. This means that Arab and Muslim Palestinians living in the same streets as their Jewish neighbors don’t have access to the same rights or treatment. This is colonialism being avidly practiced and supported by the West and yet there is hardly any international outcry against this.

Just because it isn’t being published on the news media you’re watching or because it isn’t trending on your Twitter feed doesn’t mean it’s not happening. We need more awareness and international solidarity on these issues.

The silence on Yemen

Yemen has been in a humanitarian crisis for over a decade – UNICEF has named it the ‘largest humanitarian crisis in the world’. This past month, news has surfaced that Yemen is facing one of its biggest famines yet. Still, the coverage on this ongoing crisis in Yemen – only compounded with the UAE-Saudi blockade and the coronavirus outbreak – has been miserably low in mainstream media.

CNN, BBC, Fox News, The Guardian, (pretty much all the media outlets – big and small) were on top of the Black Lives Matter movement incited by the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. However, all these major news outlets have yet to produce any considerable content on the crisis in Yemen. Why is it that certain social issues are cherrypicked for coverage over other – equally important – ones?

The answer to that lies equally in the capitalist encumbered reliance on viewership and the West’s general lack of interest on issues beyond their immediate geographical or cultural boundaries. Even if those issues are very much caused by and aggravated through Western activity.

The only comprehensive media coverage that I have seen on Yemen has been through Al-Jazeera (and to some extent, the Economist). Most of the other mainstream media have failed to make any comprehensive coverage of this crisis. And the reason behind this is that their predominantly Western readership is simply not interested in an issue that will never concern them. The dollar diplomacy, oil monopoly-laden wars incited and funded by the US and the UK in the Middle East are so far from anything the West has experienced that the severity of these crises have effectively been externalized.

This is the greatest violence of Western hegemony – creating wars and calamities, imposing sanctions that render states incapable of feeding their populations, and establishing puppet regimes that only proliferate terrorism – and then conveniently withdrawing itself from the consequences of its actions.

Below I have compiled a list of resources that you can use to educate yourself about the crisis and also donate/help in any capacity:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/millions-yemeni-children-brink-starvation-200625084934928.html

https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/where-we-work/greater-middle-east-eurasia/yemen

https://www.unicefusa.org/mission/emergencies/child-refugees/crisis-in-yemen

https://www.monareliefye.org/donate

I am sure there are plenty other resources available online – some of them might take a lot more digging. But a reminder as I leave – don’t let a predominantly Western media culture define the scope of your activism.

Divide and Rule: India’s systemic sectarian bias

This is an excerpt from my piece published in The Kootneeti.

Since the very inception of empires and statehood, states have had a vested interest in acquiring and maintaining monopoly of power and knowledge. Harold Innis, the famous communication theorist, has emphasized the impact of state’s monopolization of knowledge in creating biases that shape our perception of reality.

In Colonial India, the technologies of monopolization of knowledge by the British empire created an inherently divisive and racist rhetoric towards Indians. From as early as the 18th century to the 20th century, nearly three generations of Indians grew up with the perception that their race was inferior and that Hinduism was always against Islam. The British Empire’s divide and rule policy pitted Hindus against the Muslims and created sectarian divisions that were so ingrained that even to this day independent India functions with this divisive mindset.

I have written on several occasions about Hindutva nationalism and the manipulation of this strand of nationalism by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the fatuous divide between Hindus and Muslims has visibly worsened. The Hindutva government has clamped down on freedom of speech and jailed journalists and political activists for speaking out against fascism, effectively creating an environment were dissidents are put into the same category as criminals. This is not uncommon. It can be seen in the Arab Spring and even in Cold War America’s careful depiction of anything remotely socialist as a threatening communist activity.

It is true that there is widespread outcry over India’s seemingly sudden turn towards Hindu fascism, but a large part of India’s population still remains submissive to blind patriotism. Why is this?

For one, we can turn to Harold Innis and his extrapolation of the monopolization of knowledge by the state to how citizens perceive and respond to their social environments.

The BJP has very intelligently capitalized over the accessibility of social media. Pioneering in the spread of disinformation over WhatsApp, the government has streamlined an environment where people can leisurely consume news designed strategically to benefit the Hindutva ideals of the party. A majority of Indians – specifically middle-class – get their bite-sized news from WhatsApp and rely on the app to shape their political views. The accessibility and social aspect of the app make it easier still to reproduce and share these views in different group chats.

This monopolization of knowledge and control over information on social media, when considered under the historical context of the colonial divide and rule policy, reveals why so many Indians have become susceptible to anti-Muslim rhetoric. The fact of our reality is that the technology of governance in India has always thrived on a divisive and sectarian policy. It has been historically imbibed in us. To break away from this can be as much an anarchist project as an intellectual one.

On police brutality…

On May 25th, George Floyd was murdered by a white policeman in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This has caused a slurry of protests, both online and on streets, calling out police brutality against black people. 

Policing systems had been put into place since the time of colonialism purely to benefit the privileged sections of the society – the white and the upper class. These systems were never established – or even systemically modified – to protect minorities. In fact, it is these very minorities, scathed in black and brown criminality, that the policing system was established to protect the rich and the white from. So really, it comes as no surprise that brutality has – and will always continue to be – embedded in the society. White fragility, so cradled in its need for protection from which it deems different or ‘criminal’, can not comprehend the need to do away with this system of policing.

The murder of George Floyd is one in millions of cases of black and brown people who have been a victim of the policing systems put into place to protect White America. And now thousands of protestors – most of whom are non-white – calling out the system are being jailed, detained, and harassed by the police. Of course, these measures are being taken to contain the spread of coronavirus. But think for a moment – how can a community endangered by those wielding violence and power be afraid of a virus when the system that it lives in threatens its people’s lives more?

Police brutality is in no way limited to the US. Similar cases have been reported in Paris and London, to name a few. It is important to note that the policing systems and the violence against minorities that they entail are systemic problems that cannot be resolved merely by putting those guilty behind bards. It is the system of condoning violence – of conferring weapons and power onto a particular section of society, barely educated in their own foundations of injustices – that needs to be completely stripped down and rebuilt to an alternative.

Violence instigated by the police is not confined to race but more so to economic privilege. The lower you are on the rung of the capitalist ladder the easier it is for police brutality to go unnoticed, eg: higher incarceration rates through coerced confessions/ class biases. This problem is also prevalent closer to home in India, especially now under the Hindutva regime of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Muslim students protesting against the CAA in Delhi were brutally shot at and assaulted by the police. The rate of violence against Muslims (a minority in India) have increased rapidly with the onset of Hindu fascism.

This seems to align almost perfectly with the rise in police brutality against black people – along with a rise in white fascism – with Trump’s election as President of the United States in 2016. It just goes to show how easy it is to turn police systems into radical weapons of violence in the hands of a fascist and unjust state.

With digital media at the tips of our fingers, perhaps we can start the fire that can put an end to a system that was created on the white, upper class dogma. It is time for a systemic change, not a superficial one.

Here are some resources I found online through which you can, if you are able to, donate for the Justice for George Floyd campaign.

There are plenty other resources online for you to learn how you can help.

In solidarity, always.

image credits: https://www.leftvoice.org/labor-unions-demand-justice-for-george-floyd

Putting American Neoliberalism to the Test: COVID-19 and the CARES Act

This article was originally published on International Relations Today. 

The once swarming streets of New York have suddenly fallen abnormally quiet. Restaurants and cafes have closed down, employers and employees face increasing precarity, and Wall Street navigates unparalleled market conditions amidst the COVID-19 lockdown. In an unprecedented move to contain this shock, the US government has unanimously passed the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, making it one of the largest economic stimulus bills in American history—nearly twice as large as the stimulus package for the 2009 financial crisis.

A Brief Breakdown of the Stimulus Package

This novel, two trillion-dollar stimulus package secures $600 billion for individuals and families, specifically promising $1,200 for families earning $75,000 or less per annum and an additional $500 per child in a family. A significant chunk of the bill is also cut out for large corporations with $500 billion dollars earmarked to provide economic stability to big businesses via loans and modification in tax payments for corporations. Another $350 billion are set aside for small businesses as loans with an increased eligibility provision to make it easier for business owners to qualify for these loans. In addition to this, $10 billion is allocated in grants to cover critical short-term operational costs of small businesses during the nationwide lockdown.[i]

The CARES Act is explicit in its support for households, businesses, and the public sector (such as healthcare, which has been negatively impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19). But how exactly does this bill, so heavily reliant on government spending, fit into the larger, capitalist framework of the American economy?

Yet Another Bailout for American Neoliberalism 

One thing that becomes clearer with each passing financial crisis is that the free market cannot be trusted to maintain and stimulate itself. There is no ceteris paribus in real life and the world economy is not shielded from the uncertainty of our environment. Every crisis—and the present pandemic more than ever—has compounded the belief that government intervention is a necessary component for economic sustenance.

At present, President Trump faces an important dilemma: prioritizing the health of the American public by prolonging the nationwide lockdown or privileging the protection of the American economy by preserving the interests of the elites. Both public confidence in his administration and his prospects for electability are at stake. From this situation, two things are clear: America does not have the political resources to enforce a Chinese-style total lockdown, as it is not an authoritarian regime and demand has fallen to an all-time low, the economic ramifications of which cannot be countered through reliance on the free market. In the midst of this, the CARES Act underscores the precariousness of American neoliberalism and puts to test the Trumpian ‘America First’ agenda.

While the disease might not discriminate, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to attention the glaring income inequality and class difference in America. Those in the lower-income bracket are far more likely to be service sector workers and are now laid off or receiving significant pay cuts as a result of the drastic decrease in demand for these services. While the promise for $1200 per family earning incomes up to $75,000 does provide some cushioning for the coming economic blow, it does little to address the systemic instability that will likely follow such an economic shock. At best, this provision overtly addresses the issue of class difference and economic elitism in the US.

Another sector that is perhaps most impacted by the viral outbreak is healthcare—particularly public healthcare facilities. Most Americans at the bottom rung of the income ladder have poor access to healthcare. The CARES Act sets aside $100 billion as a Public Health Fund for public health providers and small businesses that are aiding in combating the spread of the virus.[ii] Provisions like the expansion of telehealth services and the strengthening of Rural Health Clinics in the bill address and attempt to combat this disproportional accessibility of the American healthcare system.[iii] However, the amendments made to Medicaid are far more minor and comprise mainly of increasing flexibility in the state’s ability to pay for certain critical services relating to COVID-19.

Toward a New Welfare State?

Although these provisions highlight the swift response of the government in such a testing situation, they further point to the failure of American neoliberalism within the country and beyond. The $250 billion carved out in unemployment insurance benefits elicit the unsubstantial structure of the existing unemployment schemes. In fact, the unemployment rate has hit a record high of 3.3 million in March alone—a number far bigger than what was seen during the Great Recession of both the 1930s and post-2009 financial crisis.[iv] The need to extend insurance coverage to telehealth services—the type of healthcare increasingly common in lower-income and rural households—is an act of covering up a healthcare system that systemically deprivileges the working class.

In effect, the CARES Act has unintentionally emphasized the dire need for a welfare state. Two months ago, the policies put forward in the Act would have been considered too radical in Congress, especially under the Trump administration. Deep government intervention in the economy and rapid expansion of the public sector—largely associated with socialism—was advocated only by the likes of Bernie Sanders and dismissed by most Democrats and Republicans alike. Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposal was mocked during the primaries. The belief that the government would hand out cash to the public was a mere socialist fairytale, and the fact that America was not ready to give up its homebody neoliberalism loomed large under the 2020 Democratic Primaries. Only the severity of COVID-19 brought about this radical U-turn in the federal government’s response to the situation.

The novelty of the crisis is such that existing stimulus like quantitative easing cannot be relied upon anymore. Demand cannot be stimulated under a pandemic just by lowering interest rates. In fact, the stark drop in consumerism puts to test the flexibility and adaptability of the government and its subsequent response to manage an increasingly capricious economic environment. Adam Smith was wrong, there is no invisible hand that can placate this crisis.

Bibliography 

[i] https://www.visualcapitalist.com/the-anatomy-of-the-2-trillion-covid-19-stimulus-bill/

[ii] https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/3548/text#toc-id87B2A4774FCF4B66AE8F5EBB38CF64EB

[iii] https://www.natlawreview.com/article/cares-act-offers-relief-support-us-healthcare-sector-during-covid-19-response

[iv] https://www.businessinsider.com/us-weekly-jobless-claims-record-coronavirus-unemployment-insurance-labor-recession-2020-3

What the novel coronavirus tells us about our society: biopolitics, capitalism, and the class divide

The recent escalation in the cases of countries affected by the Covid-19 outbreak has underscored several problems that are embedded within our global society – some that we had known about, like racism and xenophobia, and some that are perhaps more hidden, like our reliance on capitalist materialism to placate our psyche.

I am heading back home from university to start the first of what could be several weeks of self-isolation and social distancing. I am anxious about the precarity of it all, of when I will get to see my friends again, of the health of my older relatives and friends, and of the impact on the world economy and the job market for when I will be graduating. It is true that we can never predict the future, but it is truer now more so than ever.

Amidst this social and economic chaos – and even political, if you look at the xenophobic comments made by Donald Trump, the rise in racially instigated violence, and the UK government’s lack of response to the spread of Covid-19 among other cases – the themes of biopolitics and capitalism become more and more apparent.

Government imposed quarantine can become a necessity – as the case of Italy has shown – to manage the virus outbreak. The role of borders has suddenly become more important than just keeping out ‘illegal’ immigrant – as the case of India’s strict immigration policy has highlighted. Small businesses and corporations can suddenly be subsumed under an unprecedented economic crisis, something that I saw first-hand while walking around what used to once be busy cafes in Covent Garden.

It is this very unprecedented nature of the virus outbreak that has generated so much chaos in our society. Our governments are always ready for defensive – and sometimes even preemptive – measures when it comes to military conflicts. But emergency healthcare and a distribution system that ensures accessibility to all sections of the society are often overlooked despite previous cases of SARS, Ebola, and HIV.

I am in no way a Foucauldian, but Michel Foucault’s conception of biopolitics and how the government strives to control its population through a nexus of knowledge/power relations suddenly seems so relevant to describe this situation. On one hand you have the Prime Minister of UK warning citizens to get ready to ‘loose loved ones’ whilst taking little to no preemptive measures to control the spread on the virus. On the other hand, you have an overwhelming deluge of information on social media about the ‘global pandemic’ and the next biggest ‘calamity’. You have NHS (National Healthcare System) beds overflowing with potential Covid-19 cases and the government having to rent beds from private hospitals to make ends meet while simultaneously having small businesses close down and people in service sectors lose jobs with very little cushioning from the government.

Those in the bottom rung of our society’s ladder will be the worst affected by the crisis. Take India for example: It is one of the most populated countries in the world with a large section of its population living in poverty. Most of these poor people cannot afford to distance themselves socially. They also cannot afford anything besides poorly managed governmental hospitals which are sparse and already overcrowded. How is the government going to manage this population which cannot afford to take the measures recommended by their government?

Another case that I have been thinking about as well is that of asylum seekers in Europe. They have managed to escape the eyes of media that only seem fixated on the wellbeing of citizens. Perhaps a lack of vocalization of the situation of these asylum seekers in news stories tells us something about the knowledge/power nexus and how media can become a tool to direct hysteria only in a specific direction while silencing a whole section of the population.

How are these asylum seekers – living in unhygienic and overcrowded refugee camps in a foreign country whose language they cannot speak – going to access healthcare and take preemptive measures to protect themselves from this pandemic?

Herd immunity or any kind of social Darwinism or ‘survival of the fittest’ – as advocated by the UK government – is just another policy that privileges the already privileged class (the wealthy and the abled) over others. It reifies the social divide introduced through capitalism, making it stronger and proliferating it deeper into our healthcare system.

If the government had enough money to bail out banks during the global financial crisis in 2007, it can certainly take out enough money to ensure that every single person – regardless of their income, social standing, or citizenship –  are in a position to afford to take preemptive steps against the virus and have access to necessary healthcare.

This is a difficult time, but it doesn’t need to be just that. The Covid-19 outbreak has accentuated the flaws in the biopolitical functioning of our governments that we already knew existed. Perhaps the peculiar global nature of this situation can unite us against and despite these flaws to set a new precedent to better manage our communities and societies.

Women’s Day, 8th March 2020: On violence against Women

On this Women’s Day, I’d like to raise awareness on violence against women rampant in India. The Citizen Amendment Act, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva nationalism, and violence against students and journalism has recently surged in the Indian political scenario. While these issues have gained considerable media coverage, I want to highlight an issue that is often brushed past media and hardly ever sustained in day-to-day discourse: the growing rate of violence against women.

The National Crimes Records Bureau shows that rape cases have doubled in the past 17 years. 

  • 4,15,786 rape cases were reported across India between 2001 and 2017
  • 16,075 cases of rape were reported in 2001 across India.
  • In 2017, this number rose drastically to 32,559 which showcases an increase of nearly 103 per cent
  • According to these statistics,  67 women were raped every day across the country during these 17 years

There is also a tendency for sexual violence to discriminate against caste and class. The Indian society is highly stratified in its casteist roots. Upon reading news on sexual violence in India, women from lower income backgrounds and especially those belonging to castes considered to be ‘low’ are more likely to a victim of violent rape and murder.  Cases like these are also less likely to be reported or handled with diligence due to caste biases in the police administrative sector.

India also has the highest number of acid attacks in the world, with women from ‘lower’ castes being extremely more vulnerable to such attacks. Despite the acid attack epidemic, Indian government has not passed a bill to effectively monitor the sale of acid.

Another issue that creates grounds for violence against women in India is a non-existent sexual education system and a culture that represses the expression of sexuality. This makes rape a tool of violent sexual expression on the side of the criminal while creating an environment that silences the survivor.

There has been a general increment in violence in India in the past two years and Kashmiri women have faced the brunt of this violence. For a society that holds its women on a moral pedestal and worships and idolizes deities, there are still immense measures that need to be taken to make the country safe for women.