Low income people won’t comply with the lockdown if the government gives them no incentive. Even after giving them economic support, they might not find food in the stores if the well-offs’ panic-stricken stockpiling goes on. The government must draw a line on mass-consumption.
When more than 200 countries are devastated by the global pandemic COVID-19, regulatory measures like lockdown, shutdown, curfew, etc have been put into effect on a massive scale. The modern world has never seen such a massive regulatory restriction on our movement and hence, states across the globe have implemented the lockdown phenomenon in different manners.
One of the commonest denotative meanings of the term "lockdown" refers to "a state of isolation or restricted access instituted as a security measure" and in our national case, this meaning is rightly applicable. And of course, apparently, a lockdown has been imposed on our intercity and intra-city movement to reduce and check the outbreak of the epidemic like many other countries.
Our people, in general, are happy with the decision of lockdown, which they, or most of us, consider as a timely step for the safety of the population. Perhaps no other measures could have been taken to alleviate the fatal damage of such a virus.
However, the manner of implementation of lockdown has been debated in many countries including India, where people were allowed only four hours before lockdown legally went into effect, thus leaving millions of low-income workers stranded in and around Delhi as they failed to go home at such short notice. As a result, there has been a mass entrapment of such daily labourers. There is a severe medical consequence if such lockdowns are not planned carefully.
When I speak of people being happy with the lockdown situation, I talk about those who have a steady and regular income, which is not interrupted much due to sudden stagnation, or people who have a permanent income.
Here, people like the daily wage-earners, low-income families, small merchants, hawkers, rickshaw pullers, et al., whose existence relies on their daily earning, are not included. And such people cover the major segment of our population, who are the worst sufferers of such lockdown.
Their life depends on their daily bread and their daily food comes only from their daily wage. And instinctively, sometimes we, the happy-go-lucky, express our grudge against these people who come out on the street ignoring the lockdown.
Though our grudge towards such public indifference has its root in our sense of medical insecurity, we need to question ourselves why these people are deliberately risking their lives.
The most clear reason why these people are out on the street is poverty. Whether ee like it or not, this is the naked reality.
The Prime Minister's Tk5,000 crore stimulus package for export-oriented industries, including RMG sector, is a big relief for the hard-hit poor people. However, now the question is- does this stimulus package cover most of the population who are forcibly driven to the limit of extinction due to such virus attack and does it even cover all the RMG factories? Both answers are negative.
Hence, a big portion of the impoverished population is living at risk of hunger, resulting in death, if not death caused by coronavirus.
A new class of homeless and alms-seeker will emerge as a consequence of economic stagnation if we cannot ensure equilibrium in the disbursement of the stimulus sum.
Still, the RMG workers (just an example of the impoverished segment) are being forced to work in many factories. Many factory owners are keeping their factories open. Calling the workers to work from far off villages, where they came on foot crossing as far as hundreds of miles, is just an example of exploitation and the well-offs' greed for profit.
If we think the other way round, we will realise that the workers came from villages as far as 300 miles on foot, only to survive the gamble between death from hunger or death from coronavirus.
Here, government intervention is a sheer necessity for two reasons: first, to save the workers from impending danger on a humane ground and then to save our economy from a grave downfall in the long run.
If we want the lockdown to work at this moment, we must ensure that the money reaches the poorest people. We need to ensure that they will survive. Otherwise, we cannot just stop them from running out on the street. We cannot just ask people to remain inside and die of hunger.
They won't comply with the lockdown if the government gives them no incentive. Even after giving them economic support, they might not even find food in the stores if the well-offs' panic-stricken stockpiling goes on. The government must draw a line on mass-consumption. On a national economic level, economist Abhijit Banerjee's prescription (though in the Indian context) to withdraw the debtor payment of the banks and then using the state fund to bankroll that deficit is something that perhaps our policymakers are also considering as a rescue mission for our national economy.
Though lockdown fell very hard on millions of us, it is justifiable in such harsh reality. However, if we want people to remain home, we must create situations where they stay home on their own volition. Arresting, mass punishment, humiliation might not be the best options to make lockdown functional, rather ensuring food and support for the poorest is the crying need of the time.
Our media (both electronic and print) are providing us with survival mechanisms. But we must remember that when you have a starving belly, yoga, meditation, 'dalgona' coffee, Netflix bucket list or Murakami reading list do not work at all.
Dietary balance turns out to be a farce for someone whose only child is dying of basic 'diet'. It is easy to remain at home when four people live in 1500 square-feet apartment with 3/4 bedrooms, however, it is not fun to huddle with 10/12 people in 600 square-feet under a shanty roof or under the torn shade of slum with no food.
Hunger knows no law; we must not forget that. The impending damage caused by such massive outrage on the street due to starvation will lead the country to a civil apocalypse. We must act upon it right now. The hungry dogs tearing apart the caged deer in the zoo can even be our own reality.
*Kazi Ashraf Uddin, Associate Professor, Department of English, Jahangirnagar University