Pandemic fear, social distancing protocol and narcissistic realism have become the new normal of the time which has ensued in novel extensions of vigilance reality across the public and private spheres.
For instance, superstores are letting in customers enforcing certain distancing mannerism, public roads have temporary check-posts, private residences are putting extra fences to reduce public proximity, and local neighbourhoods are protected by local volunteers or vigilantes.
Admittanceto different urban segments or residential areas usually perceived as public areas is now monitored, controlled, barred and sometimes denied. A sense of healthsecurity is legitimising the extra social and private control across the urban geography.
City-dwellers are displaying a kind of solidarity towards such control mechanisms; however, there are reportedly many cases of conflicts, confrontations and violence across the country caused by such restrictions. In some cases, such violence is also approved by the law and order authority.
Again, a sense of health security and a fear of pandemic infection does not validateour violence on someone potentially carrying Covid-19. Law enforcing agencies are not interested in entering these cases into their legal registers.
Sometimes the state law and order agencies are aided by the private security guards, local residents, villagers, and so on in order to ensure the social distancing.The attack (both physical and verbal) on and social othering of the coronavirus patients or their family members or potential patients are (unfortunately) validated by a sense that those individuals are criminals, and that even law can be taken up by the civil actors.
The barricading of different neighbourhoods by using bamboo or constructing temporary gates by the local youth give them a self-proclaimed power of the space they live in or care for.
Such an act of controlling the interaction with space represents a new logic of governance that Richard Perry calls "spatial governmentality", a kind of alternative social order ensured through spatial methods such as spatial zoning (locked zone) and regulation.
Such zoning is backed by the tacit logic of lockdown imposed by the state. And the volunteer groups in surveillance of such neighbourhoods rationalise and somehow legalise their presence and their temporary authority in parallel with the state's decision on the movement of control.
As such vigilance has its positive perks including the assurance of distancing from infectious contact, it can also be repressive for the urban dwellers. Such alternative control of space, apart from the state sanctioned agents, creates new identities of people such as offenders, infiltrators, criminals and so on.
Moreover, based on the report on neighbourhood-wise Covid-19 infection circulated by the news portals, different spaces acquire new value-added tags such as "safe" and "unsafe" and thus influences our mobility accordingly. People start to build their mental maps regarding areas which are to be avoided.
Sometimes, the pandemic-induced economic violence leads to the defiance of such control of movement. It is crucial to think about the economic consequences of spatial regulation while making policies and strategies. We also need to do inventories on the people whose livelihood largely depends on the urban public space such as street.
Alms-seekers, hawkers, hijras – they all somehow rely on the traffic signals, traffic jams and streets for their earnings. Hence, spatial control may hit them hard.
The co-existence of alternative spatial governmentality controlling our movements across different space during crisis moment tends to avoid the ethical dilemma whether they are legitimate or not and relies on the social emergency to avoid "risks". Though such control of space and neighbourhoods (spatial governmentality), mostly done by the volunteers and private guards (anthropologically categorised as non-state sovereigns), has its humanitarian rationale, sometimes such control is not devoid of social othering and urban regression.
Though spatial governmentality is less of a concern (or not at all) during the pandemic for its collective rationale of solidarity and public safety, the growing urban tendency of social policing through non-state or private agents/guards raises the question of sovereignty and urban security. Living in the age of real-estate aggression, the assault of civilians by the guards of a real-estate group or any private security/bodyguard is always a strong probability.
Remember when a few North South University students were beaten up by the guards of Bashundhara Group in March 2017 or when a case was filed against Jamuna Group chief on Sunday for providing employees uniforms (copying police aesthetics and design) similar to Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)?
The author is Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Jahangirnagar University