By Fayaz Ahmad Paul
Nature has made us all equal. It is us who create divisions in society for our own benefit; humanity is facing one of the biggest challenges of the century. The virus is spreading rapidly to the extent of being declared as a pandemic across the world. The spread of the pandemic has raised concerns of everyone across the world. People are in dismay for what is happening with them and at the same time are disturbed to see the conditions of others, particularly the marginalized. There is a sudden shift in people’s daily routines. Apart from the fears, anxiety, and sadness, people’s sense of irritability has started piling up. Amid such a deranged spread of pandemics, one of the important concerns that is even more deleterious than all the above highlighted negative impacts and needs to be urgently attended to be stigmatization associated with the pandemic.
Stigmatization is practiced as an adaptation following a principle of discriminate sociality in the perception of danger, threat, or challenges to one’s social living, and attempts are made henceforth to safeguard oneself from various such foreseen or unforeseen impediments such as getting prone to infectious diseases, being advocated to the values contrary to their own, and having an intimidating out-group, etc. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in developing country like India, there existed a negative perception toward those infected with the disease. The Covid-19 patients are accused of being ignorant and negligent, thereby being held responsible for having contracted the virus.
The patients were being stereotyped as the active spreaders of coronavirus and were being treated as the passive acquirers of the disease. Such a stereotype led the society to adopt several negative treatments directed against them. Being an atypical condition, the devaluation associated with the mark of Covid-19 is indelible. Probably, that is why the consequences attached to its stigmatization are so devastating that even the formerly diagnosed continue to be stigmatized, and even after defeating the virus, they have not been able to free themselves from being shunned by society. They are reported being treated as untouchables, receiving the humiliating taunts and fingers pointed against them and their family; their lane of residence has been named as “Corona wali Gali Hai Yeah”, and the associated burden is strong enough that it has even compelled them to sell their own house.
The fear among the people is so intense that it has led them to blame the scapegoats especially the poor, laborers, daily wagers, and the migrants. Various newspaper reports indicate that the people working in Delhi and residing in Haryana areas were negatively labeled as “corona carriers”. Even the doctors were not spared from being titled as the “carriers” of coronavirus. Therefore, not only the infected but even the suspected due to the high risk of being infected become the potential recipients of stigmatization. Stigmatizing reactions of society against the infected during pandemics such as SARS outbreak and it shows that communicable negative health conditions bear stigma. The stigma toward the infected or feared to be infected with Covid-19 could be explained by the terror management theory because of the lack of any appropriate medication or exact type of vaccine available for Covid-19, a lot of terror has been evident among the people at large.
The doctors, Psychiatric social workers, Clinical psychologists, Nurses and Rehabilitation psychologists who are making arduous efforts to save the lives of the patients and the police officials who are working in day and night, away from their families, are being ill-treated by the society. People at the forefront of the war against the pandemic are becoming ostracized by their neighbors, landlords, auto and cab drivers, and even their own family members. Having left with no other option, doctors and nurses have had to sleep in the staff rooms and even in the washrooms of hospitals. The nurses have become homeless because of being shunned, attacked, and accused by their fearful landlords and have faced abusive and vulgar comments. This has left them experiencing dismay humiliation, and hurt, causing them to leave their homes.
The social stigma of pandemics has not even shown mercy to the dead bodies of the patients. There have been violent disruptions or prohibitions of funeral ceremonies and burials of Covid-19 related deaths. Crematorium in Delhi refused to perform the last rites of the infected dead bodies because of the sheer lack of knowledge about how the virus spreads. The stigmatization of the whole Muslim community has been at the forefront of Indian public’s reaction to Covid-19. Some political leaders were witnessed calling the Jamaat event as “Corona Jihad”, and the congregation attendees as the “enemies of humanity”. Such reactions fueled the feelings of hatred and misplaced undue blame for the spread of the virus to this community.
The Covid-19 patients are stigmatized and hence are bearing the consequences that are far more pernicious than the condition in its own self. Social rejection has created a barricade between them and society with repercussions for their physical, psychological health, and well-being. The patients are fearful of being shamed and stigmatized by society, extreme enough to exhibit the symptoms of hysteria. Some have also equated their distress to posttraumatic stress disorder. It is important to note that stigma reduces health, help, and treatment-seeking behavior and needs to be mitigated, apart from the focus on Covid-19 treatment and prevention.
Fayaz Ahmad Paul can be reached at [email protected]