Bio-politics of COVID-19

The authorities are stamping on expat Bangladeshis’ hand after arrival at the Airport. Photo Courtesy: and Rottenviews

Abu Ahasan
…The immigration police recently began stamping returnees on their hands for home quarantine. Police marked the houses of the Italy-returnees with red flags. Journalists and social media ran sensational stories of ignorant, selfish, and unruly returnees, refusing to practice the ideal model of conduct: social distancing and self-quarantine. The misconduct of probashi, rather than the lack of preparedness of the state, increasingly came to dominate the images and imaginations of the coronavirus outbreak. Notably, the first case of death from coronavirus was attributed to “the pathetic self-seeking” behavior of an immigrant. Politicians blamed her for importing a foreign virus from a foreign land and killing her 70-year-old father, portrayed as an “innocent” Bangladeshi citizen. So intense is the marking of “overseas returnees” as the “carrier and transmitter of diseases” these days, the system, for the most part, prevented the elderly, a member of “community,” to express the “truth” that coronavirus had infected them. Were they a victim of the life-threatening coronavirus or the exacerbating bio-politics of coronavirus?

…Medical understanding of affliction or conventional theories of racism will not help us to comprehend this situation. We instead need to make visible the advent and operation of a new kind of othering in the biopolitics and necropolitics of the coronavirus. It is a war of securing the life of the population, aka “community,” that requires strategic negligence or elimination of the life of others. Like many other nation-states, the emerging apparatus of testing and quarantine in Bangladesh predominantly targeted “overseas returnees” (probashi) from coronavirus-affected countries. Migration to abroad (bidesh) is a highly aspirational pursuit in Bangladesh. Likewise, probashi (the immigrant), especially of western countries, is a social identity associated with higher social status in Bangladeshi society. As the coronavirus spread to Italy and Europe, the returnees from that part of the world came under a brand new disciplinary and public gaze as the potential “possessor, vector and transmitter of diseases.”

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