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COVID-19: Fallacies about Social Distancing

COVID-19: Fallacies about Social Distancing

istikhar and lochan

Istikhar & Lochan

istikhar and lochanIndia is a myth-dominant country. Different phases of life: birth, marriage, diseases, death go through the prism of myths portraying true colours of this country. These myths tend to be deadlier than a disease. Similar is the conditioning of social distancing in the times of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Although the virus was borne out of elite classes, it is socially mobilized from the upper class to the lower class. It does not matter if the ‘rich infections’ are penetrating to the poorest; the mentality and stance of government appear to be quite clear. Their political and economic interest would act favourably for the riches, and the poor have to be the sufferers, yet again. But who cares?

Winning an election though gaining their votes does not make the poor eligible to be heard, does not make their existence eligible to be taken care. Observing the consequences, the daily wage earners, feel no more secure in their own city; the city that they helped to plan, manufacture and had their significant contributions. They are left with no other option than to leave their homes without any government or social support. This section of our society, who came in search of livelihood, away from their native places, are now returning their hometowns. With panic and fear all around, they prefer to reach their place before their last breath. It is not just the government, but also inhuman people, their landlords who are reported to have demanded advance for next month or to leave, unnecessarily disturbing the lives of these people. Whereas, the bosses at the workplaces, fearing the economic turmoil have refused to pay salary in advance. Amidst all the confusion, when there is no financial or social support, what is the choice left with them? These people have no option than to return home for their existence, without caring for corona.

On the other hand, the brutality of police is at its peak. Unnecessarily targeting them without listening to their reasons, the police beat anyone, anywhere on the road. Most of these people were caught, brutally beaten, and punished for no reason, literally no reason! Taking the recent case, where police wrote on the forehead of those on the road, ‘Keep me off as I have violated lockdown’, stigmatizing their presence and making them realize their class identity is simply an act of shame. This behaviour is not justifiable.

People who travel by cars can easily pass by, but those who do not have luxury vehicles, mostly pedestrians or cyclists get beaten up like anything! Who takes responsibility for any severe damage done under this brutality? And, in the first place, who ordered police to be brutal at this level?

Give it a thought: what if this disease emerged out of slums? And in townships, flats and residential areas, where people from slums and other poor settlements serve as homes servants, helpers, maids, gardeners, cook etc.? How would the upper class have reacted then? How much attention would the government have given to this issue then? Perhaps, in that case, the lockdown and social distancing would have been for these people alone, and not the entire country. They would not have been allowed to leave the house.

The aristocracy would have come up with these myths: declaring those neightbourhoods ‘inhospitable territory’ and strict instructions would have been given to the serving class to stay at home.  The government would not risk their economy at the cost of these poor people. But now, because it is mostly among the upper-class, the risk is worth it! Is that really justifiable? However, the current situation is reverse, much more disastrous for our country. Corona is an elite’s game but still, the brunt has to be borne by the poorest and common people. Distancing of the poor from the rich, keeping them away is normal. Now, their moving out of the city, long walks home with all their savings, food, children, essential luggage and life learnings, simply reflects the will of rich people. Under the purview of social distancing, it is just an updated ‘normal’.

This virus of social distance has now come out of the newsroom, out in social media. Social distancing is the new trend voiced by those who have a home to practice it, the upper and middle class. We should try to understand how this virus from China has been a reminder for the poor, to call them poor again and tell again them where they belong. 

Initially, WHO did not realize the lack of time it had to intervene and act against the virus; instead it patted China for its initiatives. As and when the alarm went off, WHO felt disturbed and worried about the new pandemic, creating a sudden panic all around. In India, where its citizens surrounded the government on the issue of CAA-NRC-NPR, the virus served as a saviour for the government. Most of the protests were called off and abolished in this lieu. The government was concerned about the people so much that when Kerala announced 20,000 crores for its state fund, only then did the central government announce 15,000 crores for the whole country. Worse was already happening, when Nirmala Sitharaman was announcing 1.7 lakh crores increment in the allocated fund. Why is the fund not there already in our healthcare budget remains the concern?

A political war is bourgeoning amid corona-war. For instance, in Karnataka, the government blocked the national highway connecting with Kerala due to the corona-terror. It blocked the highway with a pile of mud on the roads, cutting off the primary food and relief supplies to Kerala. Can there be any other explanation, than to attribute it to clash between two different ruling political parties? The clash of ideological preferences would again come down to the most affected ones, the poor people.  Kerala has set a good example for addressing the pandemic outbreak, fighting against all the odds, panic and fear. While on the other hand, Indian Prime Minister and the uneducated political party representatives came out with silly nuisance, of gaumutra, havan, bathing in cow dung and above all, saying banging thaalis would cause the death of the virus, defending it with all stupid unscientific reasons.

Be it technology or disease, whatever approached India, has come along with all sorts of myths. Those who produce them decide what people should do, how to make it happen, all in the control of those myths. However, the question is, in any situation, who benefits and who is affected by these myths? Who will be resuscitated and who would be left out on the road, to walk back home, without money, without being valued. A mythical mindset decides all of it. This is how powerful the myths are. You look at demonetization, or any jumla given to people to gather a few votes: all of them are myths. Similarly, in this lockdown, the myth of practicing a safe lockdown came out as a jumla. People were not given adequate time to return home or be in a safe place, unlike lockdown practised in other countries. Eventually, the poor would realize that they are always at the receiving end of this myth: the sad reality. Myths on social distancing speak a similar tone. It says and warns loud and clear, that social distancing in sync with social order and hierarchy is critical. The rest persists, as it is.



Both Istikhar Ali and Lochan, are PhD scholars at Center for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU. Istikhar can be reached at