Permanent residents of cities don't see migrants and other marginal communities as equals, as fellow citizens. The ongoing pandemic has put the migrants' plight front and center, and that has unleashed an enormous amount of compassion. But given that the next disaster is around the corner, this generosity will run out of steam in all likelihood in a few months.

What's the alternative? One way of thinking about this differently is to swap the positions of the onlookers and those being looked at. Could we reverse the gaze between the powerless and the powerful? A second difference is to think of what migrants - and other poor people - may be able to demand as rights, rather than obtain as charity. The advantage of this is that what they can insist on as citizens has no expiry date, unlike fleeting empathy.

We need to create durable institutions that collect the wisdom of citizens - especially marginalised citizens such as migrants - and deploy that collective wisdom to address wicked problems that beset Indian society. Socratus seeks to be the midwife of that collective wisdom. Janta ka Faisla (JKF) is one such institution, which takes the form of a jury.

JKF seeks to address the needs of migrant workers and represent them as full citizens of India. The first JKF consisted of a jury of migrant workers drawn from different occupations and regions from Chhattisgarh. It was held from July 11th - 14th, 2021. A detailed report of the first JKF is given below.

Citizenship at Work

In the usual definition, "citizen" is a noun, a person with attributes recognized by a constitution and protected by the state. defines the term as:

A native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection (distinguished from alien).

At least in theory.

In practice citizens aren't treated uniformly; they are a hierarchically organized field with some making decisions and others subjects of those decisions. That hierarchy of power is in full display during the COVID19 crisis - citizenship is being marked with extreme inequality.

For example, migrants have been very badly effected by the lockdown and their future, both economic and social, is going to be determined by the future policies that are written and enacted. However, those who are making policies - about the extent of the lockdown, the distribution of services during the lockdown and the long recovery that will follow - all suffer from moral hazard: they are removed from those bearing the brunt of those decisions. Even when services are provided, they are rendered in a paternalistic mode.

The change in policies and state action will not come unless those who make these policies stop viewing the poor as sub-human who only have basic material needs that need to be met. Migrant labourers deserve to be seen not as recipients of charity but as full human beings. As we think of alternatives that treat citizens with dignity, we should consider citizenship as being demonstrated in practice, as a verb rather than as a noun. In this changed conception, citizenship is what's mutually reinforced by what I do with other citizens, whether that's a cash transfer to fellow citizens in need or having citizen representatives sitting in judgment on expert decisions.

Citizenship in this view is enacted in dialogical action.

The legitimacy to implement disruptive changes will only come from the decision making process being centered around the citizen and their representatives.

That capacity to solve public problems by the public is one of the key needs of a turbulent future.

About Janta Ka Faisla - Citizenship in Action

Socratus aims to collaborate with other interested partners to create a platform for participatory citizenship and public problem solving designed to cultivate resilience, dignity and adaptiveness in responding to our mutual needs.

We are calling this platform "Janta ka Faisla" (People's verdict). It is a space in which a jury comprised of regular people sit in judgement of policies made for them. Experts present their policies to an audience of representatives of various people's groups - as a way of enacting participatory citizenship.

Without something like this, the policy-making would happen without any consultation with migrant workers. And this platform is not to enable a discussion with a narrow focus - benefits for migrants or social security - but the entire imagination of Indian society and economy - what it means for agriculture, education, environment, health, business, international relations, defense etc. This is creating a space that allows citizens, the ones most impacted by policies, to create and articulate a vision of their own.