Embodied surveillance during Covid-19 in India: A feminist perspective

Author: Radhika Radhakrishnan

The article was first published in The Observer Research Foundation on October 8, 2020. The views are of the individual author.

In March 2020, Salim (name changed), a Kashmiri Muslim, woke up to calls from concerned relatives to find that his name and phone number had been released on a public government list. This list contained the information of around 650 people suspected to have been in the vicinity of the Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque in Delhi at the time when a religious congregation was organised there by the Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic missionary movement. This event is claimed by the Indian government to have caused a spike in Covid-19 cases in India. The police used mobile phone data to trace people who were in the vicinity of the event. Salim told me that he was not in that area that day, and he did not know why his name was on the list, and why it had been made public.

After this incident, Salim said he felt constantly scared when he heard a knock on his door, thinking that the police may have come to arrest him: “They are keeping an eye on me, I felt, They can stop me from going anywhere. If they have a database, they can find me.” [translated partly from Hindi]. For Salim, the state tracking his location data was experienced as the state tracking his body. This was such a palpable emotion that he considered leaving his phone at home every time he went out after this incident. In today’s world, our bodies are interconnected to our data to such an extent that Salim needed to physically sever the connection with his phone to avoid being controlled through his data.


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