Epidemic travels without passports. It kills without asking for permission, and it has done it throughout the centuries of human history. The Coronavirus is novel, but such outbreaks are of no recent origin. Infectious disease, epidemics and natural disasters sometimes proceed with conventional wars in slaughtering the human lives. It is evident in the reckless intimacy of the political elites with the aggressive, masculine and top-to-bottom approach in their political agendas. The top-to-bottom approach is also a reason for rising military budgets shrinking the place of allocation for primary health care and other necessities. The over-emphasis on the imaginary threat that can be managed simply with negotiations is under-carpeting most harmful and tangible threats. In other word, nation-states carefully securitise a political question and prioritise it as threatening force and real threats are ignoreToday’s fatality has enormously questioned some of the issues like epidemic preparedness, health care, administrative coordination, alternative modes of education etc. at local levels in the contemporary World. The powerlessness of national borders to contain such disasters, the struggle of underprivileged and countries under sanctions battling the outbreak makes the international order questionable. The question of displaced people, vulnerable groups and people in civil wars, the equal right and access to medical care or resources, indifferences of multiple types in the World are other concerns that have erupted in the current pandemic.
The Corona Virus erupted in the Chinese town of Wuhan and instantaneously spread to the whole World, owing to what the World Health Organisation declared it as a pandemic. Immediately, after China, the heat of the spread was encountered in Italy, Iran, South Korea, followed by other countries. According to one online portal, almost two lakh people got infected by the virus so far, among what more than Eighty Thousand have recovered and while as, the death toll is also crossing Eight Thousand people world-wide.
However, the outbreak alarmed the government apparatus across the countries, and two main things surfaced unanimously, i.e., precaution and calm. Quarantine is a word that this crisis added to our vocabulary. The medical practitioners issued an advisory that said to isolate the patients of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel virus. The warning of isolation also includes people that indicate the symptoms or have come in contact with the infected person or place recently. Social distancing, working from home and deferment of congregational events are some other cautionary measures that are advised and using masks, tissue-papers, alcoholic sanitizers, soap hand wash are some other things that are stressed for using. Every evening, international news channels carry reports on the development of vaccination under progress. People are hopeful of this epidemic ending very soon.
The epidemic is much more than a mere medical emergency; it is questioning the World and policies governing it, at every layer. The countries like China or the US might be equipped to battle with the crisis but what about Pakistan? that is bordered by China as well as Iran and has high population movement towards these countries. Iran is under harsh and crippling international sanctions; Iranians are unable to mobilise their resources. The asymmetrical global system is again unable to play any vital role in this regard. The recent SAARC video-meeting also substantiates the importance of cooperation of regional actors chalking out a comprehensive security program to fight such disasters.
In this scenario, the question of the stranded population in different countries. The enigma analysis policy of abandonment to a policy of evacuation, as indecisive that compromises the security of the people. Also, the question of quarantined patients, in the lack of proper medical care and social stigma increases the vulnerability as well as the poor isolation centres tend to expand the vulnerability to local population. The consternation of government apparatus to the panic of populace suggests that we are not ready for it. Too much of staking into the masculine ways of politics has untrained us to respond to non-militaristic threats. At immigration, one officer, a doctor in the hospital, even a cop on the roadside, a teacher in the classroom, a banker, a sweeper, are risking their lives and fear is apparent.
Though we don’t want to see World from the lenses of these monolithic nation-states, so we acknowledge that the World is not just these organised government apparatuses. There are people in Civil wars, displaced, refugees, marginal groups, people who do manual work in fields, on the streets, clean hotels, migrant workers, and so forth, are at risk. In Kashmir, for instance, this crisis also is visualised through militaristic lenses that is evident in the statements of the administration and consideration of tools like curfew, no-coordinated execution, poor condition of health care and sanitation, no place for creativity and compassion etc. The apparatus seems to be fighting for an invisible entity that hardly is threatened by the Coronavirus. While as people and not state face the real fatality.
The Coronavirus outbreak and its range and intensity substantiate the advocacy to have an approach to political agenda that is bottom-to-top and not top-to-bottom. The state-centricity can win a war at borders, but people-centricity wins over the sufferings of the people, and that is what we call emancipation; freedom from threat and freedom from want.
Khairunnisa Aga is Doctoral Candidate, Centre for West Asia Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University