Home Deliberation Normalization of Hegemonic Vocabularies: Critical Thoughts On Lockdown

Normalization of Hegemonic Vocabularies: Critical Thoughts On Lockdown

This lockdown must be analyzed, in terms of the ‘state of exception’ during a pandemic, which gives enormous power to the state to implement draconian laws like the UAPA on the protesters without much resistance.


Naming an event or occurrence is always having socio-political connotations. No written or spoken statement is neutral or devoid of meaning. At the same time, it gives a possibility of multiple meanings. As language has a use-value, everything recorded in language can be reinterpreted as well as deconstructed in a subjective manner.  While we analyze the existing epistemological designs of hegemonic structures, the nation states and media occupy an overarching authority over language and information in order to serve their interests for sustenance of power. The subjectivity of language is largely suppressed to make way for authoritarian interpretations. In a state of exception, as Giorgio Agamben conceptualized, the state clearly transgresses the personal sphere of a citizen to implement its policies in a more coercive way. By manufacturing consent of people through political rhetoric, the state and media would inform the latter about the hegemonic vocabularies to be used in popular discourses. In doing so, the state will ensure the normalization of such vocabularies to the extent of making it new norms for perpetual suppression of subjectivity and dissent.

As we have been entangling with a widespread pandemic at a global stage, an analysis over the re-emergence of state power as the ‘one-and-only guardian figure’ is worth to explore. A series of debates and contemplations on this matter is going on in the academia primarily focusing on the prospects of post-COVID19 world order. For such an analytical endeavor, the contemporary mechanisms for the illustrious ‘fight against the pandemic’ must be expounded. Here, it is more important to look at the domestic arena of nation states rather than global power relations. Even though the spread of pandemic is worldwide due to globalized economy of transportation and transnational exchange, the onus of its defiance falls on respective state governments. In other words, this pandemic with a possibility of ‘community spread’ needs to be contained by enforcement of the state power over its people. Moreover, the debate over fighting the pandemic is no more related to the health sector, but a political affair to be discussed by politicians in power. As it is a well-received norm among politicians and masses alike in contemporary scenario, the state machineries gained authority to introduce particular phrases in order to denote various conditions during the pandemic.

One of the most popular terms during the lockdown is ‘Social Distancing’. It was meant to keep a distance between individuals as the pandemic can be spread through intimate relations. But while we analyze the definitive purpose of the said condition, ‘Physical Distancing’ is the most appropriate term. Moreover, during a pandemic situation social solidarity is imperative for our collective survival. Social distancing is a weighted term to be used here, as it bears an infamous legacy of racism and casteism. Social distancing or segregation has been enforced among the Whites and Black people in the West and among the Savarna and Avarna castes in Indian subcontinent for centuries. Diverse assertive Black Lives, Dalit, Adivasi self-respect movements have raised voices against such hierarchical discrimination and marginalization at various historical phases. Hence, the discourse of ‘social distancing’ is well evident in the sharp distinction between the ‘Balcony class/caste’ banging utensils and the stranded workers walking on the roads.

The lockdown in India was announced by the prime minister soon after a ‘Janata Curfew’ (People’s Curfew) on March 22. Section 144 of Indian Penal Code prohibits unlawful assembly of 5 or more people in particular area and it is a cognizable offense. But a curfew will shut down all essential services in addition to section 144. Hence, ‘Curfew’ is a legal mechanism normally imposed during a period of agitation in order to disperse the crowd and to silence the dissenting voices. Various regions including Kashmir and North East India are under perpetual curfew in the name of draconian laws. By the implementation of Janata Curfew with an astonishing popular support, the state normalizes this authoritarian vocabulary with far-reaching consequences. It resonates in the continued arrests and detentions of Anti CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protesters across the country. While the lockdown serves the purpose of curfew in India, these arrests are meant to suppress and frighten the dissident voices of Muslim women, student activists, journalists and intellectuals. This lockdown must be analyzed, in terms of the ‘state of exception’ during a pandemic, which gives enormous power to the state to implement draconian laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on the protesters without much resistance. It is obvious that the state tries to utilize this lockdown opportunity to dismantle the erstwhile emerged popular Anti-CAA leadership, as we have seen in the demolition of ‘Shaheen Bagh Model’ protest sites across the country. The rising allegations over privacy concerns of the newly enforced ‘Arogya Setu’ Application imply that the state strengthens its surveillance mechanism during the lockdown.

Since the central government announced a long term lockdown without proper planning and arrangements, people from different walks of life have been facing much difficulties of livelihood and transportation. In order to distract attention from the failures of the state, government came with a maligned campaign against Tabligi Jamat people stranded inside their headquarters in Nizamudeen, Delhi. It is relevant to note that the grand reception of Donald Trump, President of the United States of America held at Ahmedabad weeks after the COVID-19 cautionary notice announced by the World Health Organization on 30 January 2020. Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh conducted a worship program at Ayodhya on 25 March during the lockdown. The targeted propaganda towards Tabligi needs to be analyzed as the normalized invocation of the dangerous ‘Muslim Other’ during a troublesome situation faced by the Hindutva government. The Delhi government under Aam Admi Party hurried to file cases against the Tabligi Chief Moulana Saad, whereas they kept silence during the Anti-Muslim Pogrom in Delhi one month before. While the epidemic was termed as ‘Chinese Virus’ in USA, Indian media houses named it as ‘Tablig COVID’ to defame the entire Muslim community as distributors of COVID-19. Similar propaganda was reported against the people of North East region in major Indian cities. It is noteworthy that various influential Arab leaders came forward with an online campaign to counter Islamophobia in India at global forums. The U.S. Commision on International Religious Freedom has recommended India as ‘country with particular concern’ (CPC) on the pretext of the implementation of CAA and violations of religious freedom. The current Hindutva regime has been denigrating the reputation of India as the world’s largest democracy and the country is facing a grave backlash over the suppression of dissent during a pandemic condition.

While the lockdown is reportedly about to end, these hegemonic vocabularies will remain in the popular memory viable to perpetual consequences. In a post-COVID19 world order, the crucial question will be of the re-emergence of a hegemonic state apparatus and the ways of resistance and dissent.  Whether people are able to be subversive or they adopt indubitable submission to the state? How far these hegemonic vocabularies will serve the agendas of governments to perpetuate atrocities over the oppressed and marginalized communities? At what extent the global community can interfere in the matters of nation states in addressing humanitarian and political concerns? These questions are sufficient to contemplate over the dilemma of people about a world order during as well as after the pandemic. The resistance of hegemonic structures always relies upon the production of counter-narratives and de-construction of terminologies. The subjectivity of naming and the prospects of meaning making are crucial tools in challenging the existing vocabularies and conventional norms. In the process of deconstruction, new meanings can be extracted and re-interpreted in order to produce novel epistemological realities, which obviously will help us to formulate resistance and dissent.