Covid-19: Grief Is A Thing Of Privilege
By Sayantani Ghosh
‘Grief’, expeditiously explained as a feeling due to “someone`s death” (especially). With enough room for disagreements what it appears to imply and what this article aims as well is to look at the physicality of a phenomenon which is otherwise deemed the mind`s business; apart or rather independent of the body. The endeavor to understand the mind traces back to the 19th century with the establishment of ‘psychology’ in infiltrating and assisting the mental disturbances among human subjects. However, to look at ‘grief’ or mourning as a social phenomenon perhaps one might have to notice the fervent entanglement of a particular body and their scope of grieving.
“Grief meets the uncanny when the world around you that was once totally comfortable and familiar now suddenly feels uncertain, unfamiliar and creates a sense of fear or dread” (Anonymous).
In a world, witnessing pandemic ‘death’ is more extensive than ever and so is grief of losing a loved one. But is the scope to grapple with this loss equally disseminated? Are all bodies equally grieved? In fact, in a highly stratified society are all bodies equally given the priority to live? The argument thus put forward is about how different bodies – minority bodies are lost without any recognition and repentance from the state. How the grief their families experience is invisibilised; and in fact, how therefore, to be able to grieve is itself a privilege that is gained from being placed at a dominant social position.
THE ARGUMENT THUS PUT FORWARD IS ABOUT HOW DIFFERENT BODIES – MINORITY BODIES ARE LOST WITHOUT ANY RECOGNITION AND REPENTANCE FROM THE STATE. HOW THE GRIEF THEIR FAMILIES EXPERIENCE IS INVISIBILISED; AND IN FACT, HOW THEREFORE, TO BE ABLE TO GRIEVE IS ITSELF A PRIVILEGE THAT IS GAINED FROM BEING PLACED AT A DOMINANT SOCIAL POSITION.
With the nation-wide lockdown imposed and no arrangement from central and state, the most affected have been the daily-wage earners and migrant workers. They have taken to roads to reach respective homes which have eventually led to the death of around 22 workers as of March 30th; hunger deaths are on peak during this period but these have failed to achieve the required attention. Most importantly, what death of minority bodies, especially migrant workers here entail, is immense pain for the family not only as loss of affectionate members but most often the loss of ‘only earning member’ of the family.
Grief here comes as a labyrinth of emotions demanding a far onerous approach in dealing with ‘loss’; the overpowering agony to feed the family and to survive, leaves little room for the elaborate grieving process that most families get to stress and in fact embrace. A latest report informing the death of three laborers while cleaning septic tanks all in their 20s makes me question, where are these bodies placed in the social rubric and how much concern do we show for these families? Caste based occupation is only proof how we treat Dalit and lower caste as dirty bodies for the dirty work.
Pandemic or not, Muslim lives are rendered redundant and in fact they are the most ignored. So much so that a virus has also been communalized; a society that constantly demonizes a particular community, how much freedom does a Muslim family have to grieve their lost members? With a majority capable of shaming the demise of ‘nation’s enemy’, what are these bodies left with, other than continually clarifying and emphasizing their patriotism, even at a time when they are losing their existence and lives altogether?
Caste and religious discrimination have extinguished more lives than diseases and it still continues to, be it the north-east Delhi violence before the virus attack which have left hundreds of Muslims homeless at a time like this or the ever existing Brahminical prejudice finding its way back to ‘untouchability’, this time without the veil of civility even. The point to be noted is, minority lives were always lost easily and without accountability but an unprecedented pandemic is being used better to elegantly ignore them because, well, ‘pandemics do not discriminate based on religion, caste, class, race’, which makes the dominant half equally exposed and vulnerable and hence, it requires zealous attempts to contain a non-selective virus.
THE POINT TO BE NOTED IS, MINORITY LIVES WERE ALWAYS LOST EASILY AND WITHOUT ACCOUNTABILITY BUT AN UNPRECEDENTED PANDEMIC IS BEING USED BETTER TO ELEGANTLY IGNORE THEM BECAUSE, WELL, ‘PANDEMICS DO NOT DISCRIMINATE BASED ON RELIGION, CASTE, CLASS, RACE’, WHICH MAKES THE DOMINANT HALF EQUALLY EXPOSED AND VULNERABLE AND HENCE, IT REQUIRES ZEALOUS ATTEMPTS TO CONTAIN A NON-SELECTIVE VIRUS.
Time, as a resource is essentially scarce. Time to lament over one loss at a time is only available to people encased in a physically pleasant social position which will allow them to feel, considered worth sympathizing and hence improve. However stigmatized the mind might be, it must be a relief to know that your body and physicality is not at risk simply by the virtue of an ascribed identity. Especially, when in the end, we all have to find meaning to our lives only as members of the society, when despite everything else to a person the final denotation is “a dead body”.
Grieving a body which held only minute significance is a challenge in itself- to carry the idea with oneself that the loss is only personal, simultaneously being overpowered by primary concerns to survive a poor social and economic condition yourself or as a family. A hunger obstructing the pure emotional agony is alien to the privileged section. To be able to express grief, the accessibility to ‘move-on’ and eventually find support in the process, is therefore a privilege. Death was always hierarchized and so are ‘dead bodies’, certain deaths and diseases were always justified using religion as moral justice for people defying the normative social structure and not much is different with the current pandemic as well.
Queer people and sex workers almost seem historically entitled to oppression; however it does not translate into grieving these bodies. Following the barely available narratives from Kashmir, where one reads “life has no meaning here.. we never know what will happen to us..” ; a body which has little meaning, how meaningful is their death? How non-existent is their grief? How long can they weep before they already starve.
Finally, perhaps slightly romanticizing, these extremely vulnerable bodies with regular threat to their mere existence seem like soldiers leaving homes with uncertain return only without a gun-salute or even a decent funeral. In a pathetic reality, where funeral is a privilege, grief certainly is an entitlement some bodies are blessed with.
Courtesy : FII