- Cultivate scientific temper and counter misinformation, debunk superstition surrounding the corona virus.
- The social stigma attached to corona is staggering, covid-19 doesn't differentiate between rich and poor. If a reality check is conducted, lack of basic facilities and poor sanitation conditions in government run hospitals add to the adversities of ailing corona patients.
- It is different when one isolates oneself to safeguard themselves from the corona virus but when the society ostracizes you because you are afflicted with the corona virus, then it becomes a very pathetic situation.
Corona is highly contagious, spreading through ‘respiratory droplets’ (a cough, sneeze, transfer of saliva) and contaminated objects, like a door handle or other shared surfaces. Community spread refers to people in the same location contracting the virus without an obvious chain of events. Community spread is an early sign that a disease can and has spread rapidly affecting local, and steadily, increasingly affecting global population.
Whenever a pandemic occurs, people turn to their fervent beliefs, frantically hold up lens of their long-held biases, while still others process the carnage through superstitions and bizarre theories.
In the name of belief, people gather in religious places, flouting social distancing norms, which leads to the spread of the deadly virus Corona. One such corona super-spreader event was at Markaz , that religious congregation that took place in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz was responsible for spreading 4,000 confirmed cases and at least 27 deaths. The Tablighi Jamaat was accused of propogating corona-jihad.
9,000 missionaries who attended the congregation returned to their respective states in various parts of India and rapidly spread corona in those areas.
As a consequence there was ‘escalation of Islamophobia’ and ‘vitriol was poured on Muslims by several media outlets and even by some public figures. People started shunning Muslim roadside vendors who sold vegetables and fruits for fear of contracting corona. Grocery shops owned by them were less frequented. At that point of time, I was in India, in fact, stuck in India because of Country’s lockdown and I received many whatsup messages asking me to avoid Muslim vendors. The battle against COVID-19 in India metamorphosed into Muslim-bashing very quickly. Calls for socio-economic boycott of Muslims was possibly unconstitutional in the face of Article 15 (2) of the Indian Constitution which protects against the discrimination in access to public space.
With the pandemic going on and people being sequestered in their homes, people started feeling the ardent need for religious and spiritual connection. Different rumors were started and people started performing different rituals at home to ward off corona’s evil eye! People started drinking hot milk adding raw turmeric to it, as it was believed to keep the respiratory system healthy. Exporters across India confirmed an increased interest from corona-affected countries in consuming raw turmeric. In fact WHO issued a statement,’ eating lemon, turmeric or mango cannot prevent coronavirus’. However, people continued taking turmeric to fight inflammation and also because it was said to support and strengthen the immune system. People resorted to all homemade recipes, traditional medicine in order to avoid the devastating consequences of coronavirus infection.
As scientists struggle for a response to the coronavirus, many people are turning to faith. In a pandemic religion can be a balm and a risk. Religion is the solace of first resort for billions of people grappling with a pandemic. But what is good for the soul may not always be good for the body. All day along various television channels spoke of ‘angry god’ and corona as its repercussion! To add fuel to thought was the series of eclipses that occurred during past weeks, any shift in the cosmos spells major movements and drastic transformations across all the twelve zodiac signs. This is the latest prediction for corona.
When you read the psalms, you can see that it is all about people turning to God during ‘troubled times’. Now, too, it is again the same scenario. People make efforts which are being amplified in the audio-visual media, with various religious chanting sessions regularly given airtime. This is despite the fact that neither prayer nor chanting was deemed effective during the 1918 flu pandemic a century ago, nor any prior pandemic in history.
Modi, Indian Prime Minister said, “We will clap our hands, beat our plates, ring our bells to boost health worker’s morale and salute their service,” In fact the cumulative effect of that clapping, according to NASA did nothing.
Later Modi urged people to switch off lights of their homes at 9 pm for nine minutes on April 5,2020 and light candles, lamps to display nation’s collective spirit to defeat corona virus. People were sarcastic and said, first we were asked to deafen the corona virus with noise and now we are supposed to blind it with light!
In times of heightened stress, people tend to resort to “magical thinking” and superstitious behavior – particularly when there seems to be very few ways to exert control over a situation. Science turns into a mute spectator whenever God becomes a part of the big picture. In a nation with a billion-plus population, blind trust in the Divine is quite common. In South India, when a person is afflicted with poxes of any variety, it is believed that the Goddess Mariyamman has ‘arrived’ in the person. The poxes, chickenpox, small pox are considered ‘sprouts of the body’, ’sprouts in the field’ On TV corona is shown as a gray Styrofoam ball dotted with red spikes, it has become the unofficial logo of the pandemic. People nevertheless found a semblance of corona in cauliflowers and started offering cauliflowers to please their God.
In North India, Shitala Mata is conceived as a deity who could cure smallpox. In parts of Bengal, muslims worship a deity of cholera and named it Ola Bibi. Hindus did the same and called her Olai Chandi. Add Raktavati (the Goddess of infections related to blood) and now Corona Maa, and it is clear many believe that God protects the worshipper from the risk of being infected by a lethal disease. Controversial intellectual Christopher Hitchens had famously said,’The cause of my life has been to oppose superstition. It’s a battle you can’t hope to win- it’s a battle that’s going to go on forever. It’s part of the human condition”. Nobody could have said that better. Manufacturing a deity is the outcome of trust in the power of the unknown that thrives on adversities.
Historically, Christians were no strangers to epidemics. Vivian Nutton, the esteemed historian of medicine, writes that from the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, “A town would experience an epidemic of plague approximately every decade, and a serious devastation once in every generation.” Disease outbreaks were part of the rhythm of life. Those outbreaks caused by bubonic plague were particularly dreadful, boasting a fatality rate of 60–90 percent (for COVID-19, it is “only” 1–3 percent).
In response to these outbreaks, Christians wrote many “flight theologies,” exploring what measures Christians could take in good conscience (whether, for example one may flee a diseased town).
In the words of Rabbi Ron Muroff,” Society is splintered along religious, racial, ethic and political lines. Covid-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, reminds us that fundamentally we are human. We are interconnected and interdependent. May God guide our words and actions to strengthen our connections to each other during this crisis and beyond”.
It is different when one isolates in order to safeguard themselves from Corona virus. Many in their late sixties and there on have got all that they can handle already with their high B.P, Diabetes, Asthma, Fibromyalgia or an autoimmune disorder. The best way for them to survive is by sitting in their house for however many weeks or months it’s going to take. But how many TV serials can you see; how many computer games can you play before you start to lose it? How many mysteries can one read? Yeah, realize that time is supposed to be precious,, especially since those in their senior years, it is short, but right now each of them is trying every trick they know to waste time away. Corona virus forces one to socially distance, life seems shallower, it’s more mere survival than actual living!
Those who emerge victorious from Corona virus are not celebrated but are shunned by relatives and friends. By doing so, these so-called friends and relatives feel they have warded off corona virus. A Veterinarian refused to treat a corona virus recovered woman’s dog. A gardener who would not trim the hedges outside a corona virus recovered man’s home. A maid who refused to work in a corona virus recovered patient’s home. Neighbors who dropped off home cooked meals said not to bother returning their Tupperware it was sent in. And the sick corona virus teenager whose solace during his long illness was the thought of playing with his friends, only to have them ghost him when he recovered. The corona virus recovered patient is looked at as a contagion, versus as a survivor! The survivors are just pariahs!
I was blissfully ignorant of this trend until a cousin of mine narrated about her mother-in-law’s death. The lady died on July 11th,2020. She was undergoing dialysis in a very reputed hospital in India. She contacted the corona virus in the hospital. Within a few days time, she breathed her last. What saddened me was when my cousin informed me that every time her mother-in-law opened her eyes and showed signs of hopeful recovery, the cousin and her family were filled with mixed emotion, that of joy and fear. Joy, that she was on the way to recovery; fear about how they would be treated once they return to their residence, how the residential colony might ‘react’? I was shaken by this news and started reading about the subject. To my utter shock and amazement, I realized that a recovered corona virus patient is still treated like a leper! CNN carried an article.
In light of the eviction of doctors, nurses and medical personnel from their rented homes, the Delhi Government issued a circular preventing such eviction, terming it as illegal and a punishable offence. The doctors, nurses and medical personnel were ostracized for fear of their capability in spreading the virus. This novel corona virus has prompted an upsurge of fear, stigma and virus-shaming that is all too familiar to people living with HIV!
Fear is a primal emotion, and to pretend that any of us are any less susceptible than the rest of the general public is folly. Fear also instills an appropriate humility about the fragility of life itself. These are human beings we are talking of, we should have a healthy fear before we unleash any harsh inhuman intervention upon them. We need to acknowledge our fears- the rational and the irrational- and then tuck them away within the recesses of our mind and allow reason and logic to have its way.
Corona virus is a new crisis that will eventually change everything. Everything about how we work and socialize, everything about how we interact, how we in fact ‘live’! It might very well be a less haptic world, a more screen-centered and surveilled world. The world will be rebuilt and we will have a chance to make it better- but this will only happen if we can figure out and express mutual considerate care and adapt a kind humanitarian outlook!