Updated: Nov 7, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed the entire world and India also has borne the brunt of the same. The spread was so colossal that the World Health Organization (WHO) had to declare it as a pandemic. The pandemic has affected the social lives of people in different aspects.
The COVID-19 pandemic has infected approximately 19.5 million people across the globe, with 2.09 million cases only in India. The impact of the pandemic is visible across the sectors globally but its impact on marginalized sections – women and children has been immense in India. The crisis has affected the economy as never before leading to massive psychological impact as well such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), acute anxiety, obsessive behaviour etc. women are at greater risk from the health perspective. Homes which were already unsafe along with families living in poor and substandard conditions have added on to the social inequities like gender-based violence, child abuse and lack of insecurity, money and health. Various unplanned lockdown extensions in the country made it more difficult for them to seek help for such concerns. Resource limitations for women has brought in a situation where prioritizing life and budget of others in the family and issues like menstrual hygiene, mental health and her nutrition do not feature in the list of priority. Focus has mostly been on testing, treatment and prevention of COVID-19 but people and communities are going through various social problems as well in adjusting to the kind of lifestyle and fear of diseases across nation. Conditions have all more affected the other half of the population globally and particularly in India where abrupt lockdown has brought millions below the poverty line struggling for basic needs like food and shelter which then leads to unequal share in domestic responsibilities to violence against the vulnerable members of the household.
This pandemic has changed the social lives of all people across the globe and India has witnessed one of the largest migrations in its history after Independence. The millions of migrant workers working in different states away from their homes lost their livelihood due to the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the virus. The migrant workers did not have money to feed themselves and their families and they did not have money to pay their house rents and the landlords simply kicked them out of the house. Their only option was to get back to their native villages. Some of them had bicycles, most of them were on feet and men, women and children were headed back home without food and money. The economy went from a recession to a depression, companies started firing employees, reduced the salaries of the ones they kept with themselves and the economic hardships people faced were unthinkable of. The dearth of jobs in the industrial and the service sectors forced people to go back to the land. Many people who had worked in shops and businesses started working as labourers and there were countless others who remained unemployed in this drowning economy. This present situation has created a sense of insecurity among people. All pillars of social security have been shaken and this fear, this sense of insecurity in a way has transformed this virus into a ‘social stigma’ and the order of the day, ‘social distancing’ is itself a misnomer in the sense that you have to distance yourself physically from others, you do not have to distance socially; get infected with the virus and people will tag you a criminal. This same social stigma prevails for rape victims as well wherein the society instead of punishing the rapists brag down heavily on the rape victims. Many doctors, nurses, health workers were harassed, insulted and in some cases were even thrown out of their houses. Families of COVID positive patients have been defamed, derogated, disgraced by neighbours. Instead of physically distancing themselves, the neighbours socially distanced themselves from the families of COVID infected people. Migrant workers on their way back home were also harassed, they were not allowed to enter their houses. The lack of institutionalized quarantine facilities heightened insecurity and fear and the nation witnessed instances of people spending up to a fortnight under the open sky on tree branches and in worst cases, in the crematoriums.
All schools, colleges, universities and educational institutions have been shut but that does not mean that education would have to stop. So online classes have sought to replace blackboards and benches. But the question persists: Can each and every student across the nation afford it? As per a survey published in Scroll, a little more than 20 percent have a smartphone, only 11 percent of students have a computer. Adding to it only 24 percent of households have an internet connection and more than 50 percent households in India do not even receive electricity for more than twelve hours a day. So online classes do not seem to be a solution to this problem and furtherance of online classes in this present form furthers the ‘digital divide’ among students, the end result being poor quality of human resource and a lopsided development of the society. So, the society needs to think for solutions to restore the foundations of social security and ensure wholesome and inclusive development of our human resource and our society.
In today’s life of the new normal, masks and sanitizers have become important amenities of our day-to-day life. But still in a few areas especially in the rural areas, masks and sanitizers are not properly available to the common people. In fact, they wear untidy clothes as a substitute to masks and use sanitizers mixed with water where the alcohol percentage being only 3 to 4 percent. This is creating a sense of panic among everyone in the society leading to disbalance of mental peace and giving rise to the CIVID-19 cases and all of these things are happening because of one factor, that is, lack of awareness and education in the rural areas. Moreover, hospitals today are not as safe as our own homes and so COVID patients are prescribed home isolation. But now the sanitation workers and the rag pickers are at risk from handling unmarked medical wastes which come out of the suspected COVID patients’ houses which may also lead to get those people affected by COVID-19. This is a pandemic situation. The Government has tried to arrange for quarantine camps and home isolation centres for suspected COVID patients as well. But everything and every step that is taken up by the individuals of the society goes in vain when the question comes of not having enough food and water, when the question comes of not having proper shelter to live, when the question comes that there is a lost existence of a person in the society. The labourers do not have that much of money to live on a simple diet exclusive of the fact that they are both migrant and those who are working within the state. Nearly one quarter of India’s population lives below the poverty line and up to half a billion people are just employed in the informal sector getting only weekly earnings. Now since such a huge population is underprivileged, it is eminent to say that the unemployment rate is also at a higher level which leads to the slowing down of the economic growth of the society, slowing down of the cash flow in the society, slowing down of the job opportunities in the society. The unemployment rate rose to 27.11 percent from the previous 7 percent level before the pandemic took place. We are actually being in a social standstill today with no hope of returning back to the previous social life which we used to live. But now it is a fact that we do not have any other option other than accepting the new normal life which makes us completely different from the society, that is, to stay away from the social interaction and cover our faces with masks just like criminals. It is eminent to say that this pandemic has led to a significant disaster of the humanitarian society.
Today, when the phrase “I am fine” has almost become an irony and an ever-polite question “How are you?” has changed into a dreadful concern, the tiny corona virus is breaking its untouchable records day by day. The pandemic has popularized some new words in our discursive practices, ‘social distancing’ being one of them. As long as we communicate, there is a wave of human relationship and here social distancing becomes a great misnomer; physical distancing yes of course but not at all social distancing because after all we are social animals. Here the main point of highlight is the social impact of the pandemic on the lives of the ‘alternative society’ with whom we have maintained social distancing from time immemorial and in its true sense. The ‘LGBTQ community’ and ‘sex workers’, obviously integral part of society but are kept excluded. With the cancellation of marriages, baby showers etc. the economic life of the LGBTQ community got tremendously shattered. Yes, now our social distancing is really successful as people belonging to the LGBTQ community find it difficult to stay in their own homes and “safe places” during this lockdown because of dire consequences of domestic violence. Has the mainstream popular media propagated a single news of a transgender person being infected with COVID-19? Of course, the very obvious answer to this is “We are practicing social distancing and not physical only.” Now coming to the sex workers, about whom the patriarchy very proudly says these “bad women” are unnecessary for the “safety” of the “good women”. Hats off patriarchy! The red-light areas of India which has officially more than six lakh sex workers are shunned from any income. Their missing link from Government’s relief packages shows how they are denied of their human rights. So, today when we are wondering about what new recipe our mothers have prepared for us in our dinner, we must remember that there are human beings, there are innocent children out there who are starving for a single meal a day.
We can at least hope that when COVID-19 is threatening human beings, human beings will not maintain a distancing with humanity itself, will definitely self-quarantine from these social evils, be reflexive and yes, please lockdown all kinds of sectarianism. We definitely cannot join hands now but of course we can sanitize our hearts and let them beat in the same rhythm. It is the only way that we can survive according to the aspirations of our forefathers who named us homo sapiens, the wisest of all species.
About the Author...
Sriparna Roy Chowdhury
is a Sociology Teacher, in a private school. She loves reading books, writing, listening to music, reading articles on social issues.
The views of this article belong to the original Author Ms. Sriparna Roy Chowdhury.