Yesterday 22 March was Day Three of the lockdown.
It seems an age has passed since the prison mutiny. And it was only four days ago. It was on 19 March, the day before lockdown. In Mauritius, it seems, mutiny comes first. Then lockdown. My novel on a prison mutiny during a cyclone, one kind of natural calamity, is re-lived today during an epidemic, another kind. Fiction becoming fact.
The demand of the prison mutiny four days ago, in these times of the epidemic, was, according to the prison director himself, clear: that remand prisoners and prisoners who can’t afford their fines be released during the epidemic. Could there be a more reasonable demand? People who have been in total lock-down (in prison) when they should not have been in prison anyway? They are locked up because they are poor. That’s why. Even the Prison Commissioner seems to think the demand reasonable. In LALIT, we say the Authorities must respond and release all the prisoners who are locked up because they are poor. They are half the prison population. They can be quarantined, like everyone else “coming into” society from the outside, and then allowed home. Their release will obviously make prison conditions better, at least more spacious, for those left inside.
So the humble seek freedom and equality, in a way, during a natural disaster, whether an epidemic or a cyclone.
At the beginning of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the humblest sailor, the boatswain, orders the King of Naples to get back down to his cabin: “You mar our labour; keep your cabins; you do assist the storm.” There is nothing like a natural calamity to remind the powerful of our human equality. Or worse still, to remind the higher classes of their uselessness. When one of the King’s advisers, tries to remind the boatswain what an important person is on board, he replies, “Hence! What cares these roarers for the name of king? To cabin! Silence! Trouble us not! ... You are a counsellor; if you can command these elements to silence”, then do so. [Translated: Marin reponn Lerwa Naples, “U pe gat nu travay; res dan u kabinn; u pe anpir siklonn.” E kan, konseye Lerwa, ondire Shawkatally Soudan, intervenir pu fer rapel kisannla ki abor, dizon Onorab Pravind Kumar, marin persiste, “Sort depi la, don! Sa lamer demonte la, li konn tit lerwa, li? Al kuse dan u kabinn, futur! Aret agas dimunn! U enn konseye, u. Donn lord pu siklonn kalme, be.”
So, the boatswain ordered the King into lockdown.
The metaphor used for us to stay indoors, “lockdown” comes from locking prisoners, who are already in prison, into their cells, especially to quell a mutiny. That was its definition. And now prisoners are mutinying because everyone else is in lockdown. In Brazil, in Mauritius, and yesterday in Colombia. That is how the unequal order of society is challenged by a natural calamity.
And so, it is time to think, or just begin to ponder upon, how we will come out of this world epidemic. Will we take the equality we taste during the lockdown – as things become rationed more equally, as hospitals become places for all equally, as hotels are requisitioned for important needs in society like quarantine, as factories are forced to produce what is needed not what makes a profit – with us into the future? Or will the bosses use all the new data they are collecting on us during lockdown, as they use all the state-of-emergency laws and regulations, in order all the better to dominate, exploit, manipulate us, as they continue their reign, hobnobbing with “their” state apparatus again. The ship became the sailors’ ship in the calamity. But, could the State not become a working class state without a calamity, especially if during a calamity, we have seen the hideous nature of the bourgeois state?
Note that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has already had New York State go into production of hand sanitizer. He has made a profound appeal for nationalization of enterprises so they can be requisitioned to produce things from masks to ventilators, and then distribute them to where they are needed. This way these items are not sold for a profit, but distributed on the basis of need. Could society not always be run like this? President Trump seems to panic. He flatters and then bows to the Captains of Industry in the USA, and sees how the capitalist system does not work. And every day he and his advisors talk about how “masks will be available in two days’ time”, “in a week”, “soon”. And the crisis of not having even something as elementary as masks in the hospitals that need them continues. Cuomo says masks that cost him 75 cents a couple of weeks ago are being delivered by private profiteers for $7 apiece. Insanely, hospitals compete bid each other and against the States, and they both bid against the Federal Government, and the sellers award the masks to the highest bidder, thus private firms making money on the epidemic, that is on human suffering of enormous proportions.
So anyway, with the curfew announced and in place, so no-one can go out without a certificate from the Government testifying that you are an essential service worker. The list of essential services, for example, includes those who plant food. A friend of ours is a registered planter, but at home he does not have a printer. So, he is having difficulty registering himself and two assistants.
Anyone who wants to read all the Government communiqués can just go to: http://www.govmu.org/English/Pages/ViewAllCommuniquecovid19.aspx
Anyway, today my partner, Ram Seegobin, went out to buy rations at the supermarket in the old age pensioners’ time bracket at 9 am (Everyone else will go after 10 and before 3, Monday to Friday, in alphabetical slots by surname for different days or times to be announced). Anyway, at the supermarket, there was nothing missing from the shelves. There was even loo paper!
And today, the fourth day, there are 28 cases of known Coronavirus Disease (which is a sharp rise from the first three cases on 18 March); some 400 people in quarantine in hotels and other facilities; there have been two deaths.
Lindsey Collen, a personal note for LALIT.