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Social Boycotting in times of COVID-19

While The uncertain times in the battle against COVID-19 call for social cohesiveness and solidarity with society at large, the by-product of the pandemic has been the marginalization of individuals due to unfair stereotypes and irrational fears. Social distancing, a concept with noble intentions, is now being used as a facade for social boycotting, with health personnel, flight personnel and survivors being the focal point of its negative effects and its backlash. These groups have been Ostracized so rampantly and furiously that they have been adversely affected by it, mentally and physically - leading some to turn to suicide, or self-harm.

Marginalization or the treatment of an individual or group as insignificant or peripheral is not a new concept - something that has been practiced right from the beginning of modern society, wherein people who do not conform to societal norms are ejected from the center of society, often resorting to living on the periphery of society and avoiding contact with the central civilization. Be it the Jews in Germany, the Indians during colonial rule or homosexuals in modern-day society - Ostracism has taken many forms in ancient and modern history - and in the era of liberalism and acceptance, it is swiftly making a comeback - with one, invisible organism: SARS-CoV2. Due to the growing incidents of atrocities wherein front-line health workers, travel personnel and recovered individuals are confined to their homes, ejected from living colonies, or even physically harmed for fear of contracting the deadly disease, the Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act has implemented a step to eradicate such social evils.

However, amidst the global crises, social boycotting is directed towards COVID 19 survivors and front liners. Survivors, who after facing the trauma of battling the deadly virus in isolation are in dire need of support and consolation from society, must succumb to the living hell imposed by their own community. They are repudiated and reviled upon to such an extent that survivors lock themselves up at home to avoid confrontation. Family members are subject to a similar treatment, despite having been tested negative. A 37-year-old man was found dead by hanging - a suicide case which is attributed to the negative energy and feedback he received on suspicion of having the virus (later confirmed to be false). Survivors are denied access to basic needs, such as vegetables, groceries, water in villages where water-lines do not exist and cleaning staff in their own localities and have to travel far and wide, to other communities, to be able to fend for themselves. Many are even fired from their jobs and asked not to return to livelihoods, as with the case of a daily wage house-help worker in a prominent society in Bengaluru Suburban.

Such actions are also mirrored to health personnel. Though the backlash is seen throughout the world, India’s social boycott is more intense and widely spread, with the public’s lack of confidence in the healthcare system and the rampant spread of misinformation on social media. The doctor-patient ratio is 1:1456 in India, lower than WHO’s recommendation of 1:1000, who work around the clock to provide the best possible treatments. Doctors not only face censorship from the government but also attacks and abuses, with communities claiming they are ‘’spreading the virus’’. The last straw was the incidence of stone-pelting on the ambulance carrying the dead body of Dr. Hercules in Chennai, to curb his cremation. Though the government had introduced an ordinance for ‘zero tolerance’ for violence and harassment against health personnel and amended the Epidemic Disease Act 1917, the issue persists.

The problem is faced in the country because of the lack of accessibility to proper information and the spread of misinformation. The uneducated population of India is unaware of the details of the situation and the mannerisms to address it, thus are left in quandary. This leads them to formulate their own beliefs like the survivors are still hosts of the virus and are still susceptible to spreading it. On the contrary, health officials have reiterated over and over that patients released are deemed fit and have low chances of relapse as they have increased immunity.

This emphasizes the importance of education in Indian society and the need to address it is at its peak. If actions to provide proper education and information to all are not put in place, the uneducated population poses a risk to the country. With their prevailing social stigmas, the state of frenzy proves a liability to the welfare of citizens and curbs the efforts to battle COVID-19.

By: Sharanya Maheshwary

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