Arundhati Roy: 1.3 Billion on Lockdown on Four Hours’ Notice

A labourer wearing a facemask rests next to parked bicycles used to transport materials in a wholesale market during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Kolkata on April 6, 2020. (Photo by Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP) (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

At The Finanicial Times, novelist Arundhati Roy reports on India’s ill-considered and anti-humanist response to COVID-19. Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, offered four hours’ notice before the country of 1.38 billion people went into lockdown, where the monied sheltered in place, displacing 460 million migrant workers. Suddenly without jobs in a country without public transportation, the workers attempted to walk hundreds of kilometers to their home villages before the country halted their movement, forcing them into perilous limbo in makeshift camps.

The virus has moved freely along the pathways of trade and international capital, and the terrible illness it has brought in its wake has locked humans down in their countries, their cities and their homes.

But unlike the flow of capital, this virus seeks proliferation, not profit, and has, therefore, inadvertently, to some extent, reversed the direction of the flow. It has mocked immigration controls, biometrics, digital surveillance and every other kind of data analytics, and struck hardest — thus far — in the richest, most powerful nations of the world, bringing the engine of capitalism to a juddering halt. Temporarily perhaps, but at least long enough for us to examine its parts, make an assessment and decide whether we want to help fix it, or look for a better engine.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

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