We draw on Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe’s concept of necropolitics to examine government responses to the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil and India, two middle-income nations not commonly compared. The article describes the role played by President Jair Bolsonaro and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in aggravating the pandemic. Bolsonaro scorned medical advice and framed COVID-19 as a “little flu”. Conversely, Modi formally embraced social distancing and a nationwide lockdown. Despite differences between Brazilian and Indian approaches to COVID-19, in both countries discriminated people tended to remained invisible. This article argues that India’s and Brazil’s divergent responses to the COVID-19 emergency was a matter of degree and not of kind in regulating a necropolitical policy that considered some citizens as expendable: blacks and Indigenous people from the Amazon, in the case of Brazil; and in the case of India the sizable Muslim minority, marginalized Hindu castes and migrant workers. Whereas deaths due to COVID-19 attracted voluminous international media attention, the deaths of disenfranchised people in Brazil and India received insufficient attention and the perception of their condition has assimilated into the common trope that developing countries are unable to protect themselves as they should.
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