The world is battling hard to fight the COVID-19. The coverage and commentary about statistics related to the number of people infected, died and recovered has flooded mass media outlets. The devastating effect of the pandemic has stretched beyond these staggering numbers. Counting the cost, stigmatization emanating from misconceptions and ignorance is a colossal challenge that is to be fought at par with the deadly pandemic
Understandably, any unknown and unexpected calamity of a gigantic magnitude like the corona pandemic is likely to be carrying a heavy load of fear. The chain reaction triggered by fear psychosis propels rumour mongering so rampantly that the ripple effects are experienced by people immediately. An infected person all of a sudden becomes stereotyped based on her or his identity related to region, religion, race or even occupation. Suspecting and blaming one particular group and then virally unleashing a shameful media campaign is not only derogatory but extremely dangerous. Germination of hate and hostility leads to high voltage currents of anger that is unleashed on stigmatized groups in direct and disguised forms of abuse, intimidation, social boycott, and violence.
Amidst the ongoing war against corona pandemic, instances of stigmatized violence and offences have brought voluminous amount of shame and criticism that was highly embarrassing. Unfortunate incidents of healthcare professionals being harassed and heckled by abuse and brute violence by unruly mobs were highly disturbing and discouraging.
The ugly manifestations of social stigma are metamorphosing and currently the recovered patients are bearing the brunt for no fault of their own. Being successfully treated and then tested properly, the recovered patients back home find themselves distanced and discriminated. Even those who complete their quarantine are not being spared from the wrath of social stigma. This callous attitude makes such people vulnerable to being targets of verbal, emotional and physical abuse.
Ordinarily a patient recovering from any ailment deserves unconditional care and assistance to recuperate well and return to normal living. Contrary to this humane and empathetic consideration, stigmatization of recovered patients with discriminatory and disrespectful treatment speaks volumes about our immaturity and ignorance.
The snowballing of stigmatization based on misconceptions and sheer ignorance inflating out of proportion makes people behave in bizarre ways. The increasing reportage about maltreatment of recovered patients is a matter of grave concern for all us as we are the part and parcel of the same society reeling under the pandemic threat. The deadly virus can attack anybody, but does that mean we should behave inhumanely towards those who are infected or who have recovered?
Recovered persons are the real heroes who courageously battled and defeated the virus and emerged victorious. Those who died are now a history and the recovered persons provide a promise and a ray of hope in these dark circumstances. Plasma therapy, which incorporates the utility of plasma from a covid recovered person, is under consideration to be a breakthrough in exploring the possible treatment of corona disease.
At a time when the world community is struggling to find vaccine for the corona virus, the need of the hour is to shun stupidity and dissociate and distance from all forms of misconstrued and misleading notions. Credible sources and authentic institutions need to be accessed and approached for reliable information and updates about the disease. All media outlets must imbibe professional standards and disseminate information based on scientific findings and avoid being involved and instrumental in rumour mongering to curb the menace of stigmatization
There is an emergency to raise the level of social immunity against the contagious infection of social stigmatization. Collective thinking needs to be sanitized from contaminated myths and misinformation. Scientific temper is indispensable to boost social immunity and only proper education can guarantee the much needed transformation of thoughts. It is time to break the chain of stigmatization once and for all and ensure everyone has a right to live with dignity.
Bilal Kaloo is Assistant Professor, Department of Education- South Campus – University of Kashmir