Opinion Columnists 06 May 2020 Nilofar Suhrawardy: ...

Nilofar Suhrawardy: Lockdown and coronaphobia

Published May 6, 2020, 5:11 pm IST
Updated May 6, 2020, 5:11 pm IST
: Medics prepare themselves before collecting samples from patients for COVID 19 test at a quarantine centre, during the ongoing nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, in Howrah. PTI Photo
 : Medics prepare themselves before collecting samples from patients for COVID 19 test at a quarantine centre, during the ongoing nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, in Howrah. PTI Photo

Decades from now people are likely to have a good laugh over how billions of people lived through a lockdown all because of corona-phobia, a threat posed by a small virus. At present, however, this cannot be dismissed as a joke. Whoever even considers it as a joke would probably be viewed as a lunatic.

The corona phenomenon has given rise to several new terms as well as given new meanings to old ones. The word 'lockdown' was earlier commonly associated with arrests or emergency situations. A phobia normally stands for an irrational or extremist approach, including fear of something. At present, corona-panic leading to corona-phobia justifies lockdown, which is giving rise to phobias of several kinds. If some viewed their lockdown as house arrest, it may help them come out of depression they seem headed towards. They would feel a lot more important as primarily VIPs are placed under house arrest. Lockdown seems fairly similar to house arrest, with security forces all round, and people’s outdoor mobility strongly restricted. Call it an imaginary-phobia or whatever, there is no harm musing over lockdown being more like house arrest.

Depression of mobility being restricted has, apparently, led a few to reflect back and target some persons for irrelevant reasons. The word “gang” has been linked with targeted people who tend to gather at a few hi-fi select joints. They have also been labelled as “gangsters”. Practically all normal persons gather now and then at their favourite haunts. What is wrong with this? Besides, most don’t attach a negative approach with the word gang for they don’t link it with criminals. The word has long been in use for groups of friends in keeping with what they are associated with. For instance, a group of old school friends are referred to as school gang, of college as college-gang and so forth. Thanks to new means of communication, it has become easier to revive contacts and catch up with old “gangs” now and then. Adding “gangster” with “gang”, however, explains the negative approach held towards these groups by those who have started talking about these “gangs”.

The so-called “gangs” have been talked about when it is not possible for them to gather at any of their so-called select joints because of lockdown. Does this strike a bell? Lockdown-desperation or some phobia has probably compelled their critics to target them. When several persons work and remain together for long, it is natural for them to “gang” together for tea, etc at their select joints.  Nothing phobic about ganging up, but being averse to it, over-critical about it certainly seems suggestive of a phobia.

The same may be said about greater attention being suddenly paid to Islamophobia. When nothing seems normal, some sections tend to manipulate reasons for targeting Islam. Corona-phobia has led to increase in usage of term Islamophobia, known to be linked with anti-Muslim hostility. Though there prevails controversy about actual meaning of this term, its communal usage by few extremist elements has suddenly surfaced in India. The majority in all probability have not even heard of this term, cannot read it (due to their literacy) or even pronounce it properly. So, the limited usage of this word is by itself an indicator of its spread in India being confined to a few right-winged elements. Lockdown-phobia has apparently prompted them to focus on Islamophobia, a subject that easily helps in gaining coverage and attention through various means of communication in India.

Lockdown-phobia is gradually witnessing protests against it in USA, but there, Islamophobia and corona-phobia bear no connection as visible in India. In other countries, Covid-19 has not been linked with religion. The possibility of bias against corona-victims has been taken note of in the West. But this has been linked with their economic stature and not religion. If religion was linked, Christians would stand out as being the most affected, followed by Muslims. Globally, Hindus would figure somewhere near the bottom, a little above non-Muslim and non-Christian minorities in India. This point has been deliberately mentioned in lieu of religion-phobia’s linkage with corona-phobia in India.

With Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting having begun, it wouldn’t surprising if soon the term phobia is attached to it also. Lockdown has led to 100% collapse of shopping-phobia for gifts, new clothes, sweets, etc, that is indulged in during this period. In addition, over the years, breaking of fast in evening, that is Iftar, has been marked by several politicians and others hosting parties for this. Due to corona-lockdown and social distancing, this Ramzan, it is virtually impossible for even immediate relatives to gather for Iftar. Since the coming of the present coalition to power, there has been a halt in Iftar parties hosted by top political leaders. All have, however, not ceased holding them. For some, these have marked display of their concern for Muslims, their socio-economic stature, political credibility and other symbols of their importance. This season, Iftar-phobia of majority has been pushed to the backburner.

Intriguingly, not much importance has been given to linking phobia with an issue that is being elaborated upon across the world, regarding of course Covid-19. Yes, this refers to hygienic practices being continuously promoted and advertised. If corona-phobia was not in the air, those elaborating on hygiene at this level and practising the same would probably have been considered, if not a little “ill”, even “insane”, but certainly hygiene-phobic. Considering that a certain percentage have been “obsessed” with their hygiene, washing hands frequently, using sanitizers and other practises of keeping clean, prior to corona-phase, at present they must be chuckling:-- practically the whole world is engaged in practices that they were once almost laughed at for. Lockdown apparently spells no phobia for these having the last laugh at promotion of hygiene, which they are already addicted to.

But, seriously, once lockdown ends, hopefully precautions, whether phobic or not, continue being exercised. Corona-phobia demands this!



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