With uncertainties, fear associated with COVID-19 and an upsurge in fake news through various social media platforms India is seeing incidents of stigmatization. A guideline issued by MoHWF dated on 8th April 2020 said “Cases have been reported of people affected with COVID-19 as well as healthcare workers, sanitary workers and police, who are in the frontline for management of the outbreak, facing discrimination on account of heightened fear and misinformation about infection. Even those who have recovered from COVID-19 face such discrimination. Further, certain communities and areas are being labelled purely based on false reports floating in social media and elsewhere.”
What is social stigma?
Social stigma means discrediting someone based on their social identities. It can be gender, race, health, etc. Because of social stigma people are divided between us and them. Usually, stigmatization includes discrimination, labelling, suspicion, physical or sexual abuse, etc.
In the context of COVID-19, this social stigma is due to the perceived threat of spreading of the virus through particular groups.
Who are the ones affected?
- Frontline managers
The frontline managers are those who are working to manage the COVID-19 epidemic through various means. The healthcare workers are fighting tooth and nail to test and cure COVID-19 patients. The sanitary workers continue to maintain hygiene in all the areas. The police officers are maintaining the strict guidelines of lockdown and spreading awareness.
There have been cases where healthcare workers were denied entry in their premises and faced physical abuse by other members of the society. Police officers were beaten or run by bike when they were doing their duties.
- Quarantined citizens, COVID-19 patients and related areas
The people who had come from outside the country have their hands stamped. Also, notices have been put outside the houses. Though these are precautionary measures to curb unnecessary movement, it can lead to stigmatization and discrimination.
The COVID-19 patients, the one who contracted the disease or have recovered from the disease are also facing stigma at the hands of other community members. The fear of contracting the disease through them is leading to their discrimination. Their family members, though healthy also face the same discrimination at times.
- Particular communities
Some communities are targeted due to physical features, fake news, etc. The people of north-east India were labelled and physically abused due to their different physical features. There have been incidents of name-calling, spitting, etc.
After the Tablighi Jamaat incident, the community members are also been targeted, labelled and discriminated against. Whether a part of the incident or not, the social stigma associated with the whole community is on the rise after the incident, followed by a series of videos. There have been incidents where members of the community were denied access to health care services.
Is social stigma acceptable?
Amidst COVID-19, social stigma can worsen the problems. It can discourage the frontline managers who are working day in and day out to help the society. On an individual level, it might lead to social isolation, mental stress and detrimental effect on physical, emotional and mental health. On the community level, it creates a divide in society and is disruptive to the overall development of society.
What can be done?
As a responsible citizen and a human being in general, the onus lies on us to be helpful to the other fellow beings in a time of crisis like this. Can you imagine you are called out names, you are been denied access to your premises, you are physically and mentally harassed? No, you wouldn’t want that to happen to you. Similarly, nobody would like that. It is time we are more empathetic to others.
Also, these are the guidelines given by MoHWF to avoid social stigma. This fight against coronavirus is ours and we can fight it together.
Author: Aditi D. Zade