The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the systemic inequalities and injustices that exist in societies around the world. In India, the pandemic has exposed the deep-rooted caste and gender-based discrimination that has long been a part of the country’s social fabric. The Indian COVID-19-induced migrant crisis has been a particularly stark example of this, with marginalized groups such as Dalits and women bearing the brunt of the crisis. A recent paper titled “Media Discourse and Gendered Organizing During the Indian COVID-19-Induced Migrant Crisis” sheds light on the ways in which media discourse has reinforced or resisted hegemonic caste hierarchies during the crisis. The paper adopts a Southern feminist epistemology to critically appraise the ways in which media discourse has perpetuated or challenged caste and gender-based discrimination.
The paper focuses on the first phase of the pandemic in India, examining media coverage published between December 2019 and November 2020. The authors conducted a multi-level text analysis consisting of a preliminary qualitative content analysis, which was followed by a critical discourse analysis. Their data included media reports and opinion pieces written about the migrant crisis, the ensuing protests, and the relief work done to alleviate the effects of the crisis.
One of the key findings of the paper is that the mainstream media, which generally serves as a mouthpiece of the government, reinforced brahminical and technocratic pandemic narratives. This reinforced the existing caste and gender-based hierarchies in Indian society, with marginalized groups such as Dalits and women being further marginalized during the crisis.
The paper also highlights the ways in which online social movement discourse, particularly tweets posted to spotlight the concerns of Dalit and other minoritized groups during the crisis, challenged the dominant narratives perpetuated by the mainstream media. This discourse provided a platform for marginalized groups to voice their concerns and demand change.
The paper also discusses the systemic problems of the labor regime in India for women, ranging from gendered pay gaps, unpaid labor, health risks, and the risks of sexual violence and their ramifications during COVID-19. With unpaid work increasing and livelihood opportunities decreasing, many women are likely to find it difficult to sustain or rebuild their livelihoods, considering that there is no clear visibility of work being restored soon. The current economic discourse contains little that identifies viable measures to retain the share of women in such sectors.
The paper concludes by emphasizing the need for a more intersectional approach to understanding the impact of the pandemic. The authors argue that a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which caste, gender, and class intersect is necessary to address the systemic inequalities that have been exposed by the pandemic.
The paper also highlights the importance of centering the voices and experiences of marginalized groups in discussions about the pandemic. Grassroots organizations led by feminist activists played a crucial role in providing aid to internal migrants displaced by India’s draconian lockdown. These organizations embody feminist ethics of care and provide food, protective personal equipment, and medical assistance to migrant workers when the state absolved itself of responsibility for their welfare.
The paper also calls for a more critical appraisal of the ways in which media discourse perpetuates or challenges caste and gender-based discrimination. The authors argue that media outlets must be held accountable for the ways in which they frame stories and the narratives they perpetuate. This includes the need for more diverse representation in newsrooms and the need to center the voices of marginalized groups in media coverage.
Finally, the paper highlights the need for policy changes that address the systemic inequalities that have been exposed by the pandemic. This includes policies that address the root causes of caste and gender-based discrimination, such as land reform and affirmative action programs. It also includes policies that address the economic impact of the pandemic on marginalized groups, such as cash transfers and job creation programs.
In conclusion, the paper provides a critical appraisal of the ways in which media discourse has perpetuated or challenged caste and gender-based discrimination during the Indian COVID-19-induced migrant crisis. The authors argue that a more intersectional approach is necessary to address the systemic inequalities that have been exposed by the pandemic. This includes centering the voices and experiences of marginalized groups, holding media outlets accountable for the narratives they perpetuate, and implementing policy changes that address the root causes of caste and gender-based discrimination.
Barnali Basistha is a student of English Literature. She loves dogs and dreams of being a writer one day.