As someone who has faithfully been locked down for several weeks, albeit more comfortably than the millions who have been ambushed into homelessness and hunger, I seek to know what is the policy that underlies this infliction. It is not good enough to say that we have not one but several policies, that we have policies from one week to the next: breaking the chain, flattening the curve, whatever. Multiple policies, or policies that change from one day to the next, are not policies. These are reactions, incoherent responses papered over with rhetoric. Given this incoherence, my intention is rather to consider the practice of the state, and seek to infer the policy from that practice.
Of course, one effect of this incoherence is that it vastly empowers the minions of the state. In the absence of clear rules, the cop with a stick is the law. Indeed, he is everything—he is the rules, he is the policy, he is the law. We recognise this as the everyday reality of our pre-COVID lives. But is this good enough to deal with the pandemic? Banging pots and pans, lighting candles, bursting firecrackers—these gestures and gimmicks cannot be a substitute for a policy. So, I insist, what is the policy?
Ostensibly, this policy is the one being followed in big and powerful “foreign” countries: the lockdown is intended to “flatten the curve,” so that the number of cases do not overwhelm the health facilities, as the white man says in rich white countries. Now, I understand that we would like to play in the big leagues—to be a superpower, or vishwaguru—but mere imitation cannot suffice for a policy. What health facilities do they have in mind? What is the number of Intensive Care Unit beds in the country? State by state, city by city? There are over a hundred districts where there are no ICU beds at all. Forget ventilators, the patients waiting in the filthy hospital corridors will die of other infections anyway—perhaps that is a way of reducing COVID-19 deaths?