The State, The Police, and Government in The Times of Corona

By Shuvam Dewanjee

The exodus of daily-wage earning migrant labourers from cities towards their home towns and villages on foot after the government failed to provide them with food or the means of transportation has grappled India in a farrago of confusion and monumental mismanagement. At the core of this problem lies power in the hands of the bourgeois class and the policing system. A certain video shows one such distressed individual whose complaint (rightfully so) adds to the never-ending pile of unhumanitarian actions of the police force.

The police, as people assume, is not in fact present for the benefit of the people, they are a ‘docile body’ created by the state for the benefit of the state. A state exists due to its ‘reason of state’ or ‘raison d’état’ as it is known in French. The work of the police is to hold up what is beneficial for the state, free flow of commerce and people. The Indian government, with its ill-planned and poorly executed plan of ordering a lockdown without taking into account the proletarian and sub-proletarian classes, has turned the already panoptic police into vicious murderers with clean hands, as their power over the ‘common people’ is legitimised by the state.

The police are everywhere, in plain clothes and in uniforms; even if police officials are physically not there, policing is present through CCTV cameras, through citizens who police without authorisation of the state but are either legitimized by the police themselves or show solidarity with them, often defending their heinous actions of beating up Government employed coal workers or random individuals or even doctors, without any justified reason. The police are allegedly even responsible for the murder of a man by beating him to his death, his “crime” being his stepping outside home during lockdown to buy milk, a commodity that has been exempted from being shut down as it is an essential good, for his son. The police, while only superficially interested in the welfare of people, seem keener to keep business flowing so the state has no problems. Apart from society being a ‘panopticon’ where the individual is constantly  watched, the police also use biopower to discipline the masses, who have already internalised a disciplinary individuality. This is perhaps why a genocide of workers has not occurred.

The end to all this is to keep power in the hands of the bourgeoisie who see helping the proletarian classes as less productive or of lesser importance. The government seems unwilling to help the migrant labourers and is doing the bare minimum to avoid international criticism (in which it has failed) and an uprising of these people. In the structure of a neoliberal economy, the human subject becomes homo economicus, driven by gains and measuring worth and productivity by how much capital one can accumulate. Therefore, the government is more interested in the so-called “productive” people, the bourgeoisie, rather than the “unproductive” and easily replaceable workforce, the proletarian classes. While institutions such as the police are perceived as egalitarian and for the welfare of the people, their primary interest lies in the smooth functioning of the state. In such times, one must criticise such power and, if possible, one must challenge such institutions with counter-force, not just for the sake of justice, but to respond to the power of such repressive institutions in general.

Shuvam studies Sociology at Presidency University, Kolkata. He is a member of the Governing Body of the Liberal Association for Movement of People.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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