Arjun Philip George (ajuphili@gmail.com)
Senior Editor at THE QUEST SLR

In every phase of evolution and transition of human life, jurists and political analyst across the world have always argued about the importance of freedom to ensure the complete enjoyment of civilised life. Many of them even went to the extent of demanding reduced role of State in regulating human rights. However, while the world is passing through the alarming pandemic of novel COVID-19, the challenge of survival appears to be more important than the concern for human right. But a sudden and unwarranted lockdown that force the life of common man to crash is illogical even when it is sugar-coated with the justification of pandemic control. This is because the life of the subaltern are not been guaranteed with a free a pass towards the future. 

The photos of migrant labourers which are making the headlines of recent news make one realise the fact that the efficiency and transparent character of State do have an impact on everyday life of its citizens. The recent news of migrant workers been doused in chemical disinfectant by the health workers in Uttar Pradesh shows the gravity of this issue. More than 20 Migrant workers, kin have lost their life during the transit due to starvation and exhaustion. While quarantine and lockdown is a privilege to the well of section of the society, it is not so for the people who earn their living from the daily wage they earn. While the political executive which plans the nation’s policies ignoring the interest of the underprivileged the governance can never be considered a democratic process.  

Representatives of the people are elected with the hope that they would represent the interest of all. However, when representatives become alien to the real problems the laws created by them in numbers will be inefficient in addressing the real-life problems of citizens. The laws and the rights which are guaranteed by it, aim to provide for a better standard of human life. However, when the life itself is in danger the question of human rights seems to be of no relevance for the common man. Laws that impose restrictions for the effective preservation of rights will be no matter of concern for a person whose existence itself is being challenged by adverse situations. Thus the concern over basic liberties or stringent stipulation of law which aim to control the pandemic is immaterial for an ordinary man who tries to ensure his existence. These laws will be of relevance only when the State is confident as to create a circumstance that will allow people to follow the enacted laws. 

Mass violation of lockdown by the underprivileged sections of the society and the inaction of the State to prevent it show the failure of the institution of democracy. Modern democracies seek to ensure much more than basic survival of their subjects. But, often States fail to ensure the basic existence of the marginalised. This raises an important concern as to the actual extent to which virtue of common citizen is considered desirable by the State. No doubt it is the undemanding devotion coupled with the sweat, blood and tears of the common men that ensures the existence of the State.

Though law can never be neutral on questions of good life as opined by Aristotle, the modern States are unquestionably vested with the responsibility to ensure the life of its subjects. Burning stomach is the most important feeling that unites men around the world regardless of their race, class, caste and political or religious affiliations. The so-called notions of nationalism, patriotism, class and religion are of no significance to a man who seeks to address his question of survival. When men are confined to the walls to such an extent that it poses a threat to their life, their faith in the legal system gets destroyed. Lockdown is not the same for the rich and the poor of the nation. If the State fails to draw such a difference and develop plans to address the special needs of the subaltern it is a clear violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India which guarantees equality before law and equal protection of law to everyone.

 Treating unequals as equal is nothing but act that perpetuates inequality. The marginalised sections of the society require special care of the State to lead a dignified life. As justice means providing everyone what is due, inability of the State to provide the neglected population, their due share of resources to ensure their survival results in perpetuation of injustice. Thus the primary intention of law should be to ensure the existence of its subjects. Lawmakers and rulers should realise the fact that without subjects there can be no ruler. COVID-19 pandemic have made the common man realise that the necessity to ensure survival is the most important of all laws and the ultimate standard of justice is the access to basic necessities of life. 

Survival at the cost of the marginalised is an unacceptable notion, especially when it transforms people in such a manner as to turn them indifferent to the sufferings of others. As expressed by Michael J Sandel, in his monologue over justice, “A good society always pulls together. Rather than the press for maximum advantage, people look out for one another”.  So the importance of coexistence is paramount over a fight for individual gains and the jurisprudence over right and liberty shall give way to the quest for survival as excellence comes only after existence. 

Cite this article as: Arjun Philip George, "SURVIVAL ABOVE ALL," in THE QUEST Sociolegal Review, August 3, 2020, https://thequestslr.in/2020/survival-above-all/.

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