A Journal of the Plague Year – Pandemic in India

In a book published in 1722,”A Journal of the Plague Year,” detailing the bubonic plague in Europe, author Daniel Defoe writes about families forced into quarantine due to an infected family member. He notes that horrific shrieks and cries of poor people were heard from affected houses— they were terrified and even frightened to death, by the sight of the condition of their dearest relations, and also of being quarantined. This seems eerily similar to what we face now as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic in India. Pandemics and the measures taken to control them invariably lead to severe mental stress. The lockdown, which is meant to mitigate the spread in itself causes equal stress as the disease itself. In deeply traditional and religious societies like ours, the consequences of this stress are made worse by the  lack/ limitations of education, scientific temper and logical thinking, can be extremely dangerous

In April , a 34-year old man was reportedly attacked  and killed in Maharashtra, on the suspicion of being a COVID-19 patient. In another case, a suspected COVID-19 patient eded his life in the government hospital due to fear and stigma. We have heard  a lot of such examples reported from all around the country. Besides the general public, doctors, nurses and other health personnel have also been targeted, facing discrimination and hostility from landlords, neighbours and even family members.

 Basically our lack of understanding of the diseases and its process has lead COVID -19 to become a  stigmatised, contagious beast in India. This is a reflection of the society of we now live in, including fear mongering and ignorance.

We live in a upscale gated community.As soon as the lockdown was announced, we went into hyperdrive.WE cut off maids,drivres,gardners,visitors and set off all the common areas.All in good sense.After 3 weeks of all of us staying shut indoors(literally),we started venturing out for walks in the community.We were luckier, but in our neighbouring community, it was oppressive.They were not allowed to come out of the front doors, had to stay inside always, with groceries and essentials being delivered to their doorstep. And all this was despite the fact they had no positive cases in the vicinity.

 Isolating the quarantines patients and localities fanned the flames of this stigma. The general public remained ill-informed or misinformed on many aspects of the disease. such a “marking out” in a country like ours reinforced the fear around COVID-19. There are better and more discreet methods to implement a quarantine, where workers can be sent to homes and tele-counseling services can be provided to families with suspected infected patients or those under quarantine.

The role of educating the masses cannot be overemphasized during such an outbreak.  The lack of scientific thinking has been unchecked in the times of the COVID-19. Promotion of Ganga jal and gau mutra as a cure for COVID-19 and the following misinformation, rumors and speculation about the pandemic on social and other media, have only added to further confusion and fear.

There a thin line between caution and fear when it comes to containing a pandemic of this proportion. Caution helps in keeping us safe in a logical and effective way, whereas fear consumes our mental capacity and also affects those around us. Stigmatization comes from fear. If we want to come out of the ruins of this pandemic and from the consequences of the lockdown, we have to remove fear and stigma from this awful disease. We have to let our minds be governed by science, and not fakery. The world has seen numerous pandemics and diseases before. This too shall pass. We will fight it together with logic, scientific reason, and bravery.