ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reading Ambedkar in the Time of Covid-19

What lies behind the policy blindness towards concerns of the oppressed in India? The “social distancing” induced by the COVID-19 health crisis does not address the problem of deeper levels of distancing caused by “social isolation” and “social nausea,” two concepts used by B R Ambedkar. This article is an attempt to understand the factors behind the collective sociopolitical response towards the poorest sections characterised by lack of empathy, and to develop an Ambedkarite framework to understand social policy generally and, more specifically, in India.

The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewer, Anisha George and Arjun Sengupta for comments and suggestions.

A few weeks ago, thousands of Indians were witnessed marching hopelessly towards their hometowns in the absence of any other means of transport. The government and the public at large showed negligible levels of concern and support for these migrant workers. Like demonetisation earlier, this unplanned lockdown due to COVID-19 is a man-made and policy-induced crisis. According to some reports, more than 30 migrants have died on their way home. Why is our collective sociopolitical response towards the poorest sections characterised by this sheer lack of empathy? Of course, we get to hear a lot of inspiring stories about people taking care of strangers in these difficult times. But, why do our policymakers often forget the majority of our population when making sudden, drastic decisions? How does one explain the pathological distance between classes/castes and the policy blindness towards concerns of the oppressed in India?

To resolve this question, we need to understand how our society is structured and what the relationship is between individuals and society in India. The political realm draws from the conception of the individual in the social sphere. This is one reason why B R Ambedkar advocated for social reforms, that is, the annihilation of caste, as a prerequisite for political and economic reforms in India. This is a point he made a number of times inside the constituent assembly, including his last speech that the Indian social structure is incompatible with the principles of substantive democracy.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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