Subaltern Articulation of Hegemonic COVID-19
The world history has many stains of fatal pandemics in its collective memory. For so many times humanity was ravaged by different epidemics and paid a heavy toll in the form of human lives and economic imbalance. For instance, in 430 B. C, an epidemic smashed the people of Athens for almost five years. History echoed black death(1346-1353), a horrible episode of world history when humanity bowed to its knees once again. It was estimated that half of the population of Europe was wiped out due to this black death.
In 1973 yellow fever in Philadelphia, then in 1918, Spanish flu, AIDS, Swine flu, west African Ebola, and many more tells the story of human struggle for its survival.
Today, our global village is experiencing another pandemic, COVID-19. Thanks to the Lord who has blessed this era with information technology which has become a source to communicate even minute details about the pandemic, collective as well as individual experiences, different stages of this disease, its nature, cure, precautions, etc. but this extra awareness is adding complication in the prevailed human misery in form of thousands and hundreds of conspiracy theories. We are having the bulk of unscanned details about the pandemic so many hypotheses, so-called theories, personal opinions and analysis from many known as well as unknown resources, which are not only about its medical and scientific reality rather narratives constructed in its political perspective.
The appearance of COVID-19 on the dominant, persuasive stage of the world and its interpretation for the rest of the world is an example of the relationship of hegemony with Subaltern. The term hegemony is coined and popularized in the 1930s by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci who actually investigated why the ruling class is so successful in promoting its own interest. “Domination is exerted not by force, nor even necessarily by active persuasion, but by a more Subtle and inclusive power over the economy and overstate apparatuses such as education and the media, by which the ruling class’ Interest is presented as the common interest and thus comes to be taken for granted.(Gramsci, 1971,p.68).
This consent is caused by the prestige which the dominant group enjoys because of its position, social, political as well as economical. Subaltern population, naturally internalize those specific patterns of thought, modes of life, rules, and beliefs even at the cost of their own benefits unknowingly.
What actually is subaltern?. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak explains the term, “subaltern is not a classy word for oppressed, for the other, for somebody who’s not getting a piece of pie…. Everything that has limited or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern… a space of difference…”(Spivak, 1992,p.17). She further continues, “…. subaltern is too popular as gender is to sex, class to poverty, state to nation. One word inclines to reasonableness, the other to cachexia… the reasonable and rarefied definition of the word subaltern is: to be removed from all lines of social mobility”(Spivak, 2005,p.475).
It would not be wrong to say that COVID-19 is hegemonic, as it is interpreted from the powerful, hegemonic, and developed nations of the world to the weak, subaltern, underdeveloped nations. This prestigious pandemic comes from the developed nations to underdeveloped poor countries, by getting the name of COVID-19 from hegemonic centers of the world. While all state apparatuses and institutes operate in the general interest of hegemonic powers, whether it is a national level or international, a power-play can be observed which is very much active and operational to highlight the hegemonic priorities of the powerful. The presence of power cannot be denied when knowledge and interpretations about this pandemic are being generated through different sources of communication, which are somehow partial towards hegemon.
At the subaltern level, poor, marginalized sectors of the world are the target of the disease, as they have internalized the fear and knowledge but they are reluctant to choose between the death due to disease or hunger caused by the lockdown. For several times, the pandemic is given an impression of a tool used by some supposed powers to achieve the economic and political control of the word but this is not the concern of subaltern. They are in a circle of day to day life, who cares for these all political conspiracies?. Paradoxically, the world hegemon needs subaltern’s consent to influence power because the nature of war has been changed. It is not necessary to implement power through coercive forces rather just make them believe that this is a natural and only available course of action that goes in the general interest of the “hegemonic fraction of the dominant group”(Mahon, 1979,p.162). A net of conspiracies is woven around the collective mind of subaltern because it is in the interest of these captive agents to muddle this tangled situation.
The role of all state institutions including religion, media, health, education, different law and force agencies is very favorable to achieve the targets of this natural flow of power that is from the center to margin, imperial to insignificant, heroic to unheroic, director to actor and from hegemon to a subaltern, which is a total loss and at the end of an epidemic this loss would be weighed to negotiate between the beneficiaries. So hegemon would gain and loss would be on the part of subaltern.
In this scenario, it is no more a simple situation of natural disaster in form of the epidemic, rather an unending lust of power, desire to rule on the stage of the world by giving directions to all participants, a silent tussle between world hegemons, propagating knowledge, constructing narratives, a power show or in short a reality show can be traced as well. But this is a parallel reality that when the actual fact of exploitation of subaltern was being noticed, it would become a site of resistance because it is a vicious circle of knowledge, power, domination, consent, and dissent.
The writer is working as an English lecturer at Govt Postgraduate College for Women, Sahiwal.