Can we use the lockdown to remodel social hierarchies?

Already, we are seeing that the underlying class of people who are most underappreciated, overworked and underpaid, have always spearheaded our defence against mortality

Published - March 26, 2020 07:56 pm IST

How about a dose of sanity along with sanitation?

How about a dose of sanity along with sanitation?

This is a blog post from

It’s been two days since India went under a total lockdown, but it has been enough to demonstrate to most of us just who is “essential” for much of everyday life to function and just how much we took these things for granted, undermining them in terms of financial and social rewards.

From medical professionals to sanitation workers to the local grocer, the delivery staff to the security guard to the people who run public transport, the lockdown continues to reveal just how important these people are. In what now seems like the dream world of free movement before the Coronavirus pandemic, however, these were either invisible people, or did not figure in our constructed pyramid of importance.

Society’s construction of an elite structure, with attendant rewards and status, has never been a very rational thing. Many things go into it, the warrior who protects and brings military victory was top of the chain in the past, replaced by the democratically elected ruler now, and the bureaucracy that runs it. In large capitalist societies, the wealth creator is king of the heap. What happens, however, when we you are in a lockdown, an entire population taking a pause, no economic activity, in the face of a health emergency like the Coronavirus?

When you sit at home, day after day, you depend on your sanitation worker to clear the garbage, sanitise your streets and be your buffer to the disease. And yet, this individual is at the bottom of your class-caste pyramid. The doctors and nurses (especially those employed in India’s tottering public health system) who will probably contract the disease while treating you are your shield are consistently underpaid, overworked and deprived of basic protective equipment.

By stepping up and producing medical equipment, the domestic manufacturer — who was overlooked in when contracts were being awarded in big hospitals because it was either cheaper to import, or someone was on the take with a foreign company — is stepping into a space where global supply chains are in a retreat.

The public transport provider, for whom there is no lockdown even in ghost towns and cities scattered across India as supply lines have to be kept open, is running the gauntlet of Coronavirus during every run.

Then there’s the loud pesky reporter making sure that the State, while you are under lockdown for your safety, does not usurp your democratic rights and looks out for the poorest of the poor.

Clarity and verity are not things that appear to you in the petty pace of the day-to-day. Now, with 1.3 billion people under one of the harshest lockdowns in the world, it is time we reflected on basic existential questions, on the construction of class and status, how we got all this wrong and whether, whenever we emerge from this dystopian nightmare, we would have the courage of our convictions to remake society into one that acknowledges this very obvious “essentiality” of our frontline against this pandemic.

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