Closed Gates and Gazing Eyes: Workers trapped in a Foreign Land

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by Rajesh Verma 6 June 2020

Bhutan.

Covid-19 though a virus responsible for bringing pandemic disease which has brought a great disaster to humankind is primarily seen in the international media through national interest. We can see the American president Trump threatening a total boycott of China while the Chinese media CGTN often refuting the charges levied by the western media. Even Indian media in the tune of the western media has found a way of diverting the people’s attention from the government’s grave mistakes in dealing with Covid-19 has diverted it to either a religious colour or china’s intention. Instead of asking this question where was this virus first germinated or whether it was intentional on the part of China we should rather ask Who are the real sufferers of Covid-19? The reason is we will never know amid conspiracy theories that who is responsible for Covid-19, so lets see this question first; the question of who is suffering the most?

Keywords: Conflict, aggressive nationalism, border,

On May 5, 2020,  The CNN journalist Maggie Fox reported that French doctors claimed to find a Covid-19 patient in late December 19 a month before the official first case in the country. Her report was based on a study published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents. Now surprisingly amid aggressive nationalist reporting, this news by CNN an American media house has brought a fresh approach to the whole claim by the western media which was blaming China. Even in India most of the news channels are having their prime time news centred around this quest and not so surprisingly without having any evidence they seem to answer that china is responsible and that china will suffer for that hence creating an intoxicating nationalist approach to the issue of covid-19. Though the real intention behind this narrative is not to so difficult to understand. In my research paper entitled “The idea of nationalism and Vivekananda” which was published in Langlit, I claimed that when economy malfunctions, nationalist thoughts become the primetime breaking news and patriotic rhetorics become the dominant narrative which is always transmitted to the people through various media. If we watch the two prime news channels in India Z-News and Aaj-Tak, their anchors Sudhir Chaudhary and Anjana Om Kashyap, they have been able to color the Covid-19 crisis into a kind of Islamophobia. Another news channel The Republic is also accused of it and some of these anchors are facing court notices also.

   Now it may look like a breach of freedom of expression when there is FIR against the journalists for saying the truth but too much of allegiance to the government has brought the ugly side of the Indian media. Censorship is not new in India or other parts of the world. As early as in the 17th century in England, John Milton wrote Areopagitica defending the freedom of expression. Even in India, a leading newspaper The Indian Express had to suffer during an emergency for not showing a friendly attitude towards the then government.  It is not that Covid-19 is an economic failure or a failure of the system in India but it surely brought an opportunity for the religious divide which might be of help for a political gain. And a faction of media is contributing in this.

 Satai Ram is an illiterate, poor villager who hails from Village Raibhanpur in Sultanpur, a district near Ayodha, was working as a driver in Mumbai, now around 8 months ago he got an opportunity to work in Saudi Arabia. He was full of excitement that he would be able to help his family members by earning some good money. Satai ram has four brothers, though they are not starving they are not very well off also and belong to the Nishad community; a community that helped Lord Rama in crossing the river in Ramayana. Now it was going well as he was full of hope but suddenly the outbreak of Covid-19 shattered his dream. Schools had to be closed and since he was a driver carrying the school students home to the school and back, he is forced to share a room where 6 other migrant workers from different parts of India and belonging to the backward communities are living. Satai ram thought that amid this crisis his embassy or government would contact him and provide a safe passage but to his shock which he receives now and then when he watches or hears the news that Indian government is in regular touch with them, he starts scratching his head when did any official contact them and assured them. Satai Ram also told that sometimes the local police raids the houses to see if minimum social or physical distancing is followed and at such times their contractor hides them.

In another instance which is my personal experience, I came to know that the Indian Ambassador to Bhutan assured the Indian government that they are in regular touch with the migrant workers as well employees working in Bhutan. But some of the laborers whom I talked revealed that they didn’t know anything about such a thing. Now I am Colombo plan lecturer sent by the External Ministry of India to Bhutan, it is no matter at all, as I am in regular touch and receive help or cooperation but what about the illiterate poor workers who are simply human resources for the contractors. Bhutan has no or very minimal case of Covid-19 and it shares its boundary from India but imagine the situation of people trapped in the middle east or other parts of the world. An officer in the immigration office of Samdrup Jongkhar (Bhutan) in an informal talk told there were many laborers from India, stranded in the Bhutan side as they are not allowed to enter Assam without proper documents from the Ministry of External Ministry, India. Now they don’t have any access to contact the ministry and many of them are in a depression now.

Now, Covid-19 is a serious crisis. No government or person was prepared to deal with it and the Indian government has done an excellent job. The Indian Express on May 8, 2020, cited Oxford University’s Stringency Index on which India scored nicely by bringing the lockdown at a very early stage. The Stringency Index found that India indeed had one of the strongest lockdown measures in the world. So far it looks good though South Asia correspondents for ABC, James Oaten and Sam Patidar in their article India’s Covid-19 Lockdown: the good, the bad and the ugly have found the brighter side, as well as the ugly side when they mentioned about the plight of the migrant laborers and they, observed that real challenge is when India opens or relaxes in the lockdown.

  Now in this situation when the blame game is happening all over the world it is the laborers and migrant workers who are suffering the most. Governments are busy promoting their propaganda and they have exploited this situation to their usage. Political leaders have started preaching and religion is used as a tool to hide their failures. Even Donald Trump could be seen going to the church. Perhaps Marx was quite right when he said that religion is the opium of the masses. It is visible today how it is used and when the governments found that its effect was lessoning they opened the liquor shop; what an irony. Perhaps for the first, the laborers of the world have become brothers without any national boundary as all the countries have treated them alike. Again Marx: laborers of the world unite as you have nothing to lose but chains, Covid19 must have done to them what the communist leaders couldn’t do.

   My observation is that amid this humanitarian crisis when the world is dealing with a Raktbija kind of virus, the Indian government should be more concerned with cooperation rather than with conflict and though in foreign policy, idealism does not always work; it has to be pragmatic but this is no time for the clash. We must accept that China is our neighbor and a powerful force. Instead of allowing the third party like The U.S.A to allow too much interference in dealing with our neighbors, we should resume our talks. Atal Bihari Bajpayee very famously said, “one can change one’s friend  but not the neighbor.” And the U.S.A is not anyone’s friend.

                                          References

1: The Idea of nationalism and Vivekananda: Langlit, VOL.2 Issue-4 2016

2: www. cnn.com/2020/05/04/health/France- coronavirus- December-death-intl/index.html.

3- https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/world/416854/india-s-covid-19-lockdown-the-good-thebad-the-ugly.

4- https://indianexpress.com/article/research/a-blank-editorial-how-ie-protested-censorship-during-emergency-5232599/