Realising vulnerabilities as well as collective strength is instrumental in defeating systems of oppression and scoring a win for the people
2020 is an unforgettable year for almost everyone who lived through it. From seeing hundreds dying from Iran to Italy, and the world powers failing to address the biggest health crisis of our times, the year was marred with crisis of care. We witnessed the “collision of crises”, as Nancy Fraser puts it, of capitalism, care and Covid-19.
The year was marked with isolation, loneliness and a focus on saving our lives. In the midst of the cries of social distancing, we realised that we are, quite literally,‘in one another’s lungs’ despite the cries of saving individual health. To wear a mask to protect ourselves from fellow humans and to protect them from us, that’s how closely linked the individual and the collective are. The crumbling healthcare infrastructures and care systems in the richest, and the most capitalist countries, it became an even clearer truth that social reproduction is at the centre of the organisation of the society.The year laid bare the contradictions of capitalism and care especially capitalism’s inherent tendencies of crisis.
While the year was marked with despair, disease and death, it was also a year of resilience and resistance across the globe. The pandemic put the world on hold; though temporarily, the machine stopped.
Despite capitalism’s insistence on commodification of care, it could not provide the care services required to deal with the pandemic. There were no adequate systems in place even in the richest of countries to bear the burden of this disease. Amidst the crisis, it was finally realised that the real crisis is that of care and not just the economy. A system based on profit and financialised capital cannot meet the people’s needs of care and radical compassion, the real pandemic is capitalism and a crisis of care is at the heart of it.
Pre-pandemic, the state could get away with not providing internet to the peripheries, protective equipment to the essential workers and living wage to its workers; however, the pandemic called into question what was accepted as “normal life”. The activism and the organising during the pandemic changed the reality of resistance and the need for it. We saw a massive uprising of medical aspirants as well as medical students taking to streets and the courts to hold the institutions accountable.
In a country where politics and resistance are synonymous with corruption and sedition, the youth took to streets for their right to education, internet, accommodation, and to demand fair educational policies including the protests against the MDCAT and the PMC. And while the youth fought for the bread, they also demanded the roses. The painful year also saw the shaping of a confident assertion for the right to pleasure during the pandemic. The banning of apps like PUBG and TikTok, mediums of pleasure and self-expression, led to digital protests resulting in the lifting of both bans. New strategies and tools were employed. The youth taking to the streets and holding state to account is a promising development especially when over 60 percent of our population comprises young people. Several young people took it upon themselves to build informal infrastructures of care, to provide relief and mutual aid to the working people, to the essential workers and the daily wagers. The spirit of voluntarism took over the feeling of helplessness and dependency. The crisis of care was mitigated in many significant ways by informal infrastructures of care.
While the youth fought for the bread, they also demanded the roses.
Women took to the streets in March, and they came out again in September in thousands across the country, to protest the devastating motorway rape incident as well as to register their rage and demand solutions to the silent pandemic of patriarchal violence that had seen an uptick during Covid-19 and lockdown, which meant that many had been confined in homes and abusive situations having much of the caregiving thrust disproportionately on them. The home became the safe space in more than one way, according to state premiers and the WHOs of the world; but many traded that with political space on the streets, putting their lives on the line to demand the right to life, to health, to employment, to dignity and to freedom.
Demands for social security, basic universal income, right to dissent and political association, democracy and social justice were what defined the last year for the working people. Baba Jan, the ‘Che of Gilgit-Baltistan’, was released after serving nine years in prison after an exceptional mobilisation and consistent blocking of Karakoram Highway for over five days by the families of the prisoners as well as other residents of Hunza.
As the year drew to an end, we began to witness the forming of solidarities between the working people and political organisers across the country. New strategies and tools have been used to protest and demand. While the new year in many ways might be a continuation of the one gone by, it is a year of awakening, of struggle, of resistance. It is in times of crisis, and often post-crisis that transformative changes take place in a society. The pandemic might be over soon, it is hoped, but the change in how people view the world will materialise in action. While the world might not change overnight, all that we have learned and seen will have a lasting impact on populations across the world.Realising vulnerabilities as well as collective strength is instrumental in defeating systems of oppression and scoring a win for the working people.
The author is a gender researcher, lecturer and political organiser of the left, currently associated with Women Democratic Front, Aurat Azadi March and Awami Workers Party. She teaches Gender studies at QAU