Probably the spread of the Corona virus can be traced inversely to the phenomenon of stigmatization of the disease. Often it is a simple act of precaution for those who are not infected. But yet more often it is the fear of stigmatization that makes a person hide the news of infection risks in his community.
In all probability, there is a limit to obedience. Common people do not have the balls to disobey an immediate superior’s command. In a home once I heard a mother say to her son, ‘how dare you’ when he took something on his own without asking for her permission. This behavioural training lasts a lifetime. Today I felt that some authorities are bent on concealing the news of infection in their workplace. In obeying such an authority certainly we have forgotten how to exercise our own discretion.
Any disease that is easily communicable becomes a cause of disrepute for those who have contracted it. Many years ago I had heard someone say, “O, he has tuberculosis! But that’s the disease of the poor. How did he contract it?”
There is no doubt that poor homes have difficulty keeping distance from each other. But it would be wrong to say that these homes are not clean. I have been to some areas where cleanliness is more meticulously maintained by the homemaker than her counterpart in large houses. But the other shortages are more responsible for their unhappy condition. The lights are dim so there are dark corners. The water supply is limited or inconsistent and walls, roofs and doors are weak. Most of all, poor people have nutritional deficiencies. So if a microbe is on the loose it can easily devour a poor man.
Now that we have a pandemic ravaging the country the cases of stigmatization wear a new look. The infected are not poor people. But they are considered probable carriers of the virus, symptoms or no symptoms. In place of ‘poor’, a word that is commonly being associated with the first infection in a new community is ‘an outsider’.
Recently, we celebrated Rakshabandhan with a heavy heart. Most of us did not visit a sibling. WhatsApp videocall was the norm. But someone caught the virus the next week and it was rumoured that a sister had been on a flying visit on the auspicious day. Before anyone could find out if the sister was herself infected, the blame was shifted on her. Since some people are going about asymptomatic, no one can contest this claim either. It suits everyone to associate the disease with an outsider.
Just as the infection is now not just a lot of the poor, the stigma too is no more merely on the sufferer. I came across something very different going on here. In healthy homes earlier a mild fever was ignored; cough and cold was practically an ordinary thing. We used to give in to viral fever with a laugh but now if one tablet of Crocin is ineffective, one gets tested for Corona virus. It is advisable to not let it grow inside you. If the report comes positive, others should be tested. It is then that I was surprised to find that the people related to the infected person tended to hush up the news.
I was surprised because the infected person was eager to warn others that the workplace is infected still the others in the workplace preferred to keep quiet about it. It is acceptable that the individual’s name should not be spread but the stigma is now associated with the workplace itself. The employer wants to hush it up, the absence of the Corona + person is explained away as a change of duties and those colleagues who know would pray to God but would not tell the others.
Through this kind of evasion we are only spreading the virus more virulently.
Office orders are more or less issued towards keeping the wheels turning. We cannot halt work. I could expect a behavioral change in the community. It amounts to the exercise of an uncommon level of self-control. Many people have been able to avoid shopping and partying. But when it comes to work, I have noticed that obedience comes first. Being an employee, everyone expects office orders to decide their fate. In place of spreading the information that the employer was trying to hide, we tend to philosophize on the condition. The proactive approach would have been to read the government directives related to the control measures for the disease and insist on following them. But this responsibility is shifted to the single authority on top that is perhaps not so keen about the wellbeing of his employees. The only result is that the information remains secret and the workplace continues to be dangerous.
The next week, four more employees would be found Corona positive. They would blame the administration, the government and all the ministers.