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Opinion Columnists 26 Jul 2020 Nilofar Suhrawardy | ...
The writer is a journalist who specialises in communications studies and nuclear diplomacy. She is also the author of several books.

Nilofar Suhrawardy | COVID-19, the new excuse to ‘other’ your neighbour

Published Jul 26, 2020, 6:05 pm IST
Updated Jul 26, 2020, 6:05 pm IST
Covid-19 has exposed the harsher face of another reality, the anti-poor bias and the invisibilising of the poor
There are numerous cases of persons themselves not being aware that they have mild symptoms. PTI Photo
 There are numerous cases of persons themselves not being aware that they have mild symptoms. PTI Photo

Yes, every life matters, be it yours or mine. Why should any individual’s worth be judged by their ethnic identity, whether that is caste, clan, race or colour, or by socio-economic criteria? Sadly, the coronavirus has added a new element to a person’s credentials — the Covid certificate.

It would not be surprising if this certificate is regarded essential in not just interviews for employment but also fixing matrimonial alliances and even considering relationships from now on.


What a false step though! Less than a month ago, the Kerala government had made this certificate mandatory for expats returning to the state. Utter chaos and confusion ensued.

There was no guarantee that a certificate would prevent Malayalis from getting infected by the small virus. The state government soon changed its decision and instead made it mandatory for expats to wear PPE (personal protection equipment) during flights.

Oh dear, what a state it is to which life and its familiarities have been reduced by this traumatic virus. An Indian hospital reportedly started selling false Covid-negative certificates. There are also reports of fake death certificates being issued hiding Covid reports.


These incidents only prove the presence of the prevailing stigma attached to Covid patients. Even hospitals have made Covid tests compulsory before treatment, including surgery.

Yes, this illness has assumed serious proportions and is infectious. But, this does not imply that precautions taken will not check the risk of being infected.

This pandemic is not a wildfire, flood, cyclone or even an attack of wild animals on persons trapped in a forest. A person is not instantly affected if anyone with Covid passes by them. There are numerous cases of persons themselves not being aware that they have mild symptoms.


Their interactions with numerous people have not led to each of them becoming Covid-positive. It is not the case of Covid patients blowing plumes of virus bodies all over everything and everybody in their range. The Covid patient is not a villain at war with all close by. But such an image appears to have been created.

It is certainly sensible to exercise caution, wear masks, maintain social distance and increase one’s immunity. But let us also pay attention to the reality that it is the Covid-positive who are the real victims.

The ones who know that they are Covid-positive, in all probability, prefer remaining at home and in self-quarantine rather than venture out to worsen their own condition and also harm others.


Due to stigma attached to Covid-19 infected, even a few not affected by it have been attacked while returning from cities to their villages. Little importance has been given to the fact that violence cannot check the spread of coronavirus.

Rather, violence displayed by policemen against migrant workers also signals limited awareness about precautions needed to check the spread of Covid-19. Spare a thought; assaulting any person because of their religious and/or economic stature is equivalent to weakening their health. This may increase that person’s chance of being infected by the coronavirus. Besides, if the assaulted person is actually a Covid case, physical contact with them during meting out violence only enhances the chances of their tormenter being infected.


Sadly, to date, substantial importance has not been accorded to the hard truth that violence can only spread but not check the invasion of the coronavirus.

The fear and panic among poor self-employed workers of becoming Covid-positive has slowly but definitely started receding. This is marked by their returning to cities for employment, though largely without their families.

Interestingly, they are coming back with a new confidence, the opposite of what drove them away from urban areas for a longer period than usual. Questioned about Covid cases in his village, a local gardener, who returned a few days ago, replied there were none.


There were, however, cases in towns, he said. And after a pause, he commented seriously, “This is an illness of rich people.” Nevertheless, that he was taking necessary precautions was shown by the presence of a mask over his face.
Clearly, he is not the only one to hold this opinion. Also, it is possible that he and others have used this logic to persuade themselves to return to cities and earn. And when we talk of economic differences raising cultural and now Covid-related barriers between rich and poor, what can be said about the divides based on religion, colour, caste, language, race and ethnicity?


Covid-19 has exposed the harsher face of another reality, the anti-poor bias and the invisibilising of the poor.

Yes, there have been cases of better-off members of minorities being targeted too, but statistically, their number is lesser than that of instances of communal bias against economically impoverished.

Think again, the hardship caused by Covid-19 has made poor more conscious about this harsh reality. The majority discriminated against, whether Muslims or dalits, are poor. Nobody wants to be infected by this “imported” virus but stronger fears prevail against poor being its possible carriers.


It is a rich man’s world, after all, where Covid-19 has pushed poor more towards the bottom. The Covid bias has added itself to the list of society’s unfair biases and widened socio-economic distances between people in a country where the lives of poor matter only electorally.