By Ayona Datta, UCL
In March 2020, the Indian Government imposed a Covid-19 lockdown that within 6 hours shut down all schools, businesses, offices, shops, travel and all forms of public life. While lockdown was undeniably an assault on the working classes, its impacts were also striated across young and old women, girls and boys, cis-gender and LGBTQIA groups. Our research highlighted how digital infrastructures formed the building blocks of the Indian State’s ‘technological solutionism’ towards Covid-19, while obfuscating the social, cultural and political dimensions of everyday impoverishment of the poor during lockdown. Our research indicates that in this absence of state, civil society stepped in to address issues of technological redlining as well as the knock-on effects of subsistence rupture to the urban poor and their families.
This short animation based on our research, presents the gendered and intersectional impacts of Covid-19 in India, through the eyes of Mala and Lakshmi – two friends in Bengaluru who care for each other through voice notes throughout the lockdown. Mala is a domestic worker and a single mother, while Lakshmi is a transgender activist. Chinnu – Mala’s daughter also makes a special appearance. Their conversations give us a glimpse of the new challenges that marginalised communities have had to confront while adjusting to the ‘new normal’. Their fears, anxieties, frustrations and hopes, form the Covid-scapes of the present that may have already locked them out of equitable futures. Yet their enduring intergenerational and intersectional care across public and private spaces inform us how it may be possible to build back better post-Covid futures, not by increasing technology use, but by increased care, support and solidarity with the urban poor.
About the authors: Ayona Datta is Professor of Human Geography at UCL. She works at the intersections of urban futures, gender citizenship and smart cities, focusing on new configurations of gender-power relations in the digital-urban margins. She received the Busk Medal from Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in 2019 for her contributions to understanding of smart cities through fieldwork. She is currently a member of the REF 2021 subpanel on Geography. She blogs at City Inside Out
The project Co-investigator is Dr Padmini Ray Murray, who is the founder of Design Beku, a feminist collective that endeavours to place an ethics of care at the heart of digital and design practice. As a creative practitioner, Padmini creates new media work which reflects her research and interests in feminist video games, interactive databases, and a speculative comic on the personal data protection bill.
The video was produced as part of ‘Gendering the Smart City’ Project funded by AHRC; PI: Ayona Datta; CoI: Padmini Ray Murray; Animation: Sabari Venu and Preetham Gunalam; Special Thanks to Solidarity Foundation, Bengaluru
Suggested further reading
Brown, G., Browne, K., Elmhirst, R. and Hutta, S. (2010), Sexualities in/of the Global South. Geography Compass https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-8198.2010.00382.x
Hanrahan, KB, Smith, CE. (2020) Interstices of Care: Re‐Imagining the geographies of care. Area. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12502
Shah, A, Lerche, J. (2020) Migration and the invisible economies of care: Production, social reproduction and seasonal migrant labour in India. Transactions Institute of British Geographers. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12401