I have been torn between wanting to write about Covid-19 and writing about other things. After all, there is so much data, opinion, and advice already out there and all over the place. Also, what is the point in adding to the vast pool of mostly non-knowledge? Maybe, I said to myself, write about other things to take the mind off the pandemic. But then, I decided that I should write about Covid-19, at least about one aspect and that has to do with stigma. But first, three first-hand narratives.
We have Archana, a young lady at home, who is our household help. She was diagnosed positive and we decided that we will keep her at home. Per law, the local municipal authorities came and asked us, somewhat apologetically, if they could put up a notice on the front door. We said, absolutely, please go ahead. To Susmita and I, the notice was what the law requires as much a badge of honour. We are concerned caregivers and proud to be so. We are not hiding the fact that we have a Covid-19 patient at home. The notice, as you would see in this picture, was duly plastered, and kept for the entire period required by the authorities. But I must admit here that we do have a privilege; we do not live in a slum, nor do we live in an apartment complex. Then the story changes.
I have a young man at the office. He helps with sundry things. He was tested positive. He has a home where he and his mother live; there is isolation space. But there was a problem. Both mother and son were distraught that the authorities wanted to put up the COVID notice and late in the night, they pleaded with me to stop it from happening. I could understand their state of mind. They can deal with the disease, not the stigma of the neighborhood. I did my best to assuage their fears and finally they agreed to cooperate with the system.
When I was speaking about this with Sweta Mohanty at the White Swan Foundation, she said something that was very unsettling. Apparently, there are some States where there is a “rate” for not affixing the Covid-19 notice on the door of a home where someone has tested positive and is in home care! Now, how cruel can people be to resort to extortion in times of a pandemic! But well, it happens. Human crisis brings out the best, but mostly worst in people all over the world. We have seen it before during human crises like pandemics and war and migration and exodus.
A couple of days back, a security guard from a private agency, posted in my quarter, was tested positive. He was asymptomatic. I told him to go check into an OYO run COVID Hotel for asymptomatic positives for 10 days. My experience with them in Bhubaneswar has been very good, with four past referrals that I had already sent there. Of course, there is a charge for it, and we were happy to pay. The security guard was reluctant to go there. He said he can self-isolate at home where his mother, wife and sons live. I let the man go home. An hour later, he came back somewhat crestfallen. His family had told him that they rather have him stay away for ten days. Thankfully, OYO had the accommodation available and we were able to get a place for him there.
I understand the social stigma, the fear, the anxiety everywhere and deeply aware of my own position of privilege. Yet, I do request everyone to stand up to the disease, look in its eye and as much as we can, support our fellow humans in a crisis, a crisis whose worst may be ahead of us. This disease wants to kill humanity as much as it wants to kill humans.