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Pandemic, Privilege, and Armchair Platforms

Sitting in a privileged household, with stocks of snacks and attainable leads of hospital beds and oxygen cylinders, I am disgusted by the kind of privilege that inheritance and only inheritance can bring to a person. But, let’s accept it, I am not courageous enough to leave behind these entitlements neither do I consider it wise to do so. Therefore, this article recognizes its privilege, reflects, and presents personal insights into the upheavals shaping world affairs.

From the Black Death to the Columbian Exchange, pandemics and crises have always been discriminatory in their effects. Black Death resulted in arbitrary segregation of the poor and marginalized along with adverse effects upon the same sections. It further strengthened the perceived European elite supremacy and associated diseases with ‘filth’ of the poor. Columbian Exchange was responsible for the sweeping of large amounts of Native American population. When a supposedly normal administrative structure collapses, it is the vulnerable sections that have to pay the grisly price. Not that the previously existing system was successful in bringing some genuine welfare reforms, but in times of crisis, the system gets exposed through and through. Interestingly and woefully, demands and needs of the middle class are usually addressed or attempted to be addressed by the authorities in situations of catastrophe, simply because their concerns form the ‘popular opinion.’ Such a setting leaves no space for the representation of the exceedingly downtrodden sections. So, while the administration tries to address the concerns of the middle class (and fails utterly in doing so) and the higher classes, at top of the hierarchy, continue to consolidate their position by indirect or direct exploitation, it is the socio-economically marginalized sections that are left to deal with this situation alone. The state appears to exercise principles of ‘laissez faire’ in the most precise ways here, the same principles that it conveniently abandons when it comes to the freedom of expression of individuals. And amidst all this chaos, you and I think of such observations owing to our privilege. 

But, where do the roots of privilege lie? Inheritance, of course, is one of the possible answers but it isn’t too problematic of a concept. After all, one can’t really change the way one was born and brought up among the lavish amenities including quality education (which by the way, should be a basic amenity). Privilege lies in the individualistic perception of affairs that have collectivistic roots. So, for example, it’s a privilege to argue that the government is doing all it can, based on individual personal experiences while neglecting the collectivized figures of the migrant workers losing their livelihoods owing to the mismanagement by the administration. Such an individual-centered perception not only creates a façade of peace and stability but also hinders the scope of collective mass actions, the only possible way out. This poses a larger question - can individuals do anything in such a collectivistic setting? Are we helpless as single beings? 

The most astonishing feature of the second wave of Covid-19 in India is the response by social media platforms and the emergence of a kind and helpful space. Criticized by many as ‘woke’ or ‘armchair’ platforms or mobilized majorly by people who just ‘pretend to be aware’ on burning social and political topics, social media platforms have tolerated the wrath of both progressive and regressive circles. However, when both the progressive and regressive circles are left quite helpless by inefficient administration and cruel circumstances, it is the same armchair or woke activists whose stories and leads are actually saving lives. It is wrong to believe that such noble efforts can replace the system of organized state healthcare and therefore we must constantly question those who should be providing leads for medicines and oxygen cylinders rather than leaving the citizenry to fight with this national problem on their own. But, what it reveals is that individuals have looked at things from a collectivistic perspective, have gauged the depth of the problem, and formed a virtual community to improve the state of affairs in whatever way they can. These individuals are undoubtedly privileged too and their inheritance still remains one of entitlement but what made them harbingers of change is a holistic perception. 

These efforts can be easily given the label of a charity approach, which perhaps is true. But, it shows something strangely beautiful about human nature. Maybe all these efforts are just to come to terms with the disgusting guilt associated with privilege, but the mere existence of them offers   hope. Or maybe they are just preventing oppression and plight from reaching their peak and subsequently stopping a systemic and collective revolution to take place. The complexities of human nature and social fabric prevent any certain answers to these possibilities.

Srushti Sharma

Delhi South '20

Just trying to strike a balance between personal havoc and societal farce in whatever I write :)
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