Covid 19 Pandemic: Biology versus Sociology

A disruption that has changed patterned social practices and social order along with the culturally embedded assumptions
Covid 19  Pandemic: Biology versus Sociology
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The routine life has turned fragile andmeanings have changed fast with the creation of a new set of meanings, essenceand priorities. Covid19 Pandemic indeed is proving a breaching experiment whichmeans a disruption has come that has changed patterned social practices andsocial order along with the culturally embedded assumptions including the wayof life. Breaching experiment as a concept was developed by eminent Americansociologist Harold Garfinkel (1917-2011) who is known as the father ofethnomethodology. Ethnomethodology is a sociological inquiry that seeks tounderstand how people make sense of their everyday world through socialinteraction and behaviour. Due to the pandemic the physical interactionundoubtedly has reduced but has increased virtually and a new society what Icall the lockdown society with new preferences and priorities has emerged.

The Lockdown Society and Pandemic as a Breaching Experiment

The lockdown society is a society with anew common-sense as Covid 19 pandemic has set a new social order and isfacilitating even a new world order. A new iteration has evolved with newengagements and with a new sense of social solidarity but at a socialdistance-what ideally should have been called physical distancing because everysociety in crises needs more social solidarity if not physical proximity.

Breaching experiment is simply a method ofdisruptions of people's taken for granted everyday activities. Garfinkel soughtto experiment with taken for granted or commonsensical assumptions. Whileexplaining the concept of Breaching Experiment he argued that it is simply thebreach or violation of common and taken for granted understanding and practicesof life to better understand it. Covid19 pandemic in today's era has certainlyproved to be a breaching experiment that has challenged the taken for grantedusual routine almost round the globe. It has its impact on every social,cultural, religious and economic institution. Now nothing is more importantthan one's life as people are inside their homes. It has even defined healthyand unhealthy; those infected with Covid19 are ill and those without it arehealthy. Right now the only preference everywhere in every hospital is thecovid 19 infected and the other patients hardly get any attention. Such a scareand all out attention on  the pandemichas created other crises and lot many emergency surgeries, patients sufferingfrom other diseases like cancer, diabetes, etc, who need immediate attentionare suffering in many ways.

Home Relationships to Isolatationships

Pandemic has shifted us from relationshipsto isolations and a fear psychosis has set in among people leading to anxietyand other mental issues as well. Earlier it was fear of the unknown but thepandemic has introduced 'fear of the known'. Almost everything has changed eventhe meaning of fundamental social institutions family, kinship, religion,economy, etc,. Every discussion and news is about the Corona virus and thepandemic. Even the lives of youth are changing fast. From their only onlinelife to now spending a good time with their families has brought the age-oldethos of the traditional family back. Though the fact remains screen time hasconsiderably increased during lockdown as people kill time online. There hasbeen a tremendous increase in family interaction during this lockdown. Thehomes we live in have become our complete world.

Healthcare Infrastructure and Concerns

Given our poor spending on healthcare just1.28% of country's massive GDP and poor infrastructure (0.8 doctors per 1000patients) still the existing healthcare as a social order was somehow taken forgranted and rationalised by the state along with the masses who had somehowadjusted with the available facilities. The breaching experiment in the shapeof the pandemic thus questioned these assumptions of normalcy by state andsociety both. The taken for granted health sector has been challenged by thepandemic and made us realise why healthcare development by every nation on theglobe should have been the utmost priority rather than hoarding arms andartillery. Even the developed world feels helpless today realising that theyneed further improvement in their already sophisticated healthcare facilitiesas pandemics like Covid19 in future may pose many unknown challenges. Thepandemic has given rise to a new thought process and calls for a chain of newand humane policies to be drafted. The pandemic has also exposed the reality ofcommunist and totalitarian states and democracies given their handling andcontaining tactics of the pandemic.

The Poor Planning

Given the recent migrant labourers' exodusamid lockdown from Delhi and other big cities and their barefoot march to theirhomes far off reflected our torn social fabric, lack of planning and empathy.Even the incidents of police beating the civilians, making the labourers hoplike frogs, somewhere spraying of chemicals on them reflected lack of visionand our core ignorant and highly inhuman capitalistic mindset. The buses thatwere arranged to ferry these labourers after the hue and cry by masses hadhardly any regard for social distancing not to talk of temperature check orscreening which proved the administrative faults and negligence's and poorplanning. This is also a bitter lesson to be learned for future.

Corona Jihad-An Oxymoron Invented by Media

The much hyped Nizamuddin Markaz incidentand its subsequent communalising and othering of Muslims by some sections ofmedia and even labelling it as Corona Jihad-literally an oxymoron to labellingTablighi jamaat as talabini Jamaat further reflected our lack of socialsolidarity and spreading islamophobia even when in adversity and grip of apandemic and defined us as a fractured society of hate. Now even some incidentsof attacking the health workers have also been reported from many statesreflecting both ignorance and fear among masses. This is a chaos that needs tobe tackled. Given the joblessness, survival difficulties, and life insidelockdown the divide in Indian society given its caste-class, community, raceand enormous wealth inequality is becoming more visible. Even incidents ofdomestic violence are increasing under lockdown. One huge section is strugglingfor two square meals and the other is playing guitars in their sea viewbalconies, the media is busy with polarisation debates as usual.

Towards a Post Covid Era

While the fact remains that the pandemic isgoing to change a lot even define and redefine the concepts of democracy anddictatorship, the post Covid19 era will see lot many changes as the world maybe never like before. Given its catastrophic fallout on humans, I think it is astrong tussle of Biology versus Sociology. Now Cough is the new weapon andsneezing in public is no less than a bomb. The fear is so much that humans seefellow humans as nothing but virus at the first place. May be lot of change tohappen in post Covid era. It is certainly an eye opener calling for a seriousdevelopment of healthcare infrastructure especially intensive care andspeciality hospitals-a big concern than ever before. It also may lead to a newtrend of procuring more medical equipment as a global priority (china selling alot currently). Covid19 like pandemic and its global fallout may give furtherboost to Prime Minister's Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. A new, may be seriousapproach to sanitation and cleanliness should be the future priority. Maybe thenation ought to even come up with a special national sanitation commission anda task force to monitor sanitation round the country. A new culture is in theoffing as well where we may see a Shift from handshakes/hugs to virtual hugs/hellos. Also the disciplines of Microbiology/virology science, infectiousdiseases departments probably need to get a boost in funding to enhanceresearch and testing capabilities. Given the global use of sanitizers it willcertainly lead to the rise in the demand of sanitizers and benefit theirmanufacturers. Of economy, many people have been talking even recession inEurope is talked much these days, but it has given a great blow to overallworld economy which has its serious ramifications on jobs, production, etc,.Given the emerging issues of contact tracing and the technology in use in Chinaand some other countries, it may indirectly lead to surveillance at its worstboth over the skin and under the skin surveillance even forcing masses tochoose health over their privacy. Also the need for development of technologyto contain such pandemics in future by IITs is a good step though however  more than this the technology-societyinterface is important as masses still in our context need much education andtraining on the use of technology. Still majority of Indians even don't knowabout internet banking even ATM use. Therefore the challenges are bigger thanwe perceive them.

Last Word

We have to ensure a collective approachwith utmost solidarity, rationality and reason at the global level to tacklethe pandemic rather than thinking on caste, community, race, religious or evennational lines. It has to be a joint global effort with a greater sense ofscientific spirit to achieve a new and safe world order. The Indian Societymore precisely media is hell bent to capitalise on issues like Markaz (TablighiJamaat issue) rather than providing viable and practical strategies' amid suchan invisible killer. Also on the privatization front while some private labsoffered to assist the state in testing, etc, and government granted permissionsto labs and hospitals to manufacture kits and do the treatment. The question isare private hospitals really doing any treatment? Are such hospitalscontributing the nation anyway during this major health emergency and how isthe government going to regulate scores of such private hospitals' who returnedpatients in utmost crises times. Covid19 outbreak as a disruption thus teachesus to learn to make use of our huge private healthcare capacity in futurebesides using the package of 1.7 lakh crore announced by the Indian Governmentvery carefully so that the pandemic is contained.

(Dr Adfer Rashid Shah is a George Greenia Research Fellow, Sociologist and Associate Editor at Eurasia Review and works at SNCWS, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.)

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