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The Pandemic that led to a new prejudice

Whether it is Hispanics facing racism, Muslims looking for acceptance, negative stereotypes against Jews or socio-economic disparity across the globe; the world has recognized that with diversity comes prejudice. Gender inequality and queer rights has seen the world unite with brands and celebrities promoting equal treatment and acceptance. Not just the well-thought gay rights campaign, giants and influential entities have backed various forms of discrimination with the help of statements, CSR activities and supports. Efforts taken on the political level have added fuel to the eradication, rather dilution of the practices that would hurt the sentiments of those vulnerable to it.

If we had to dig deep into where the ideologies supporting prejudice stemmed from in the first place, they will all take us back to the dog-eared historical texts and cultural beliefs that prevailed across centuries. Safe to say that the older generations were puppeteers to the newer ones. With this theory in mind, is the current global situation giving birth to a new prejudice which will make history just like the ones with a legacy now? Is this outbreak causing more damage than that to the health of humans and the economy or is it leading us to a downfall of what human emotions are built on, feeling of belonging?

Divided We Fall

If there were an ultimate guide – ‘ways to discriminate for dummies’, it would have dividing rights as the first chapter. Unfortunately, with the cultural beliefs in India (and many other countries) have prevailing effects in our mindsets; almost like a hardbound way of thinking. This means that divisions, judging others based on how much money they make or their caste comes naturally. The outbreak of Covid-19 has led us to misunderstand ‘social distancing’ as a way to stay safe, with people distancing themselves from being culturally humane.

The case of a girl from Manipur who was labelled as ‘Coronavirus’ was one of the many occasions that have provoked a social stigma, one with a new way to negatively characterize individuals. “COVID-19 doesn’t respect borders. It doesn’t care where you are from, how rich, poor or old you are. To fight it we must work together, united as one” – as stated by the World Health Organization. At the ground level sadly this is not what can be wrapped around mindsets conditioned to condescend.

Immunity to buy privilege

The Chinese government introduced a phone app that displays a colour-coded QR codes, assigned to individuals based on their vulnerability to transmit the virus. The colour coding helps them (and those around them) understand things they are permitted to do, as simple as using public transport. While this may seem a good and independent way to combat the spread, those with immunity are sure to face envy since they can enjoy access to more than those with registered symptoms and/or travel history. Are we looking at a future with immunity jealousy?

“Experience suggests that people who have been infected and recovered will be protected for some period and won’t be able to transmit the virus to others,” says Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center, PhD, and an infectious disease expert. Turns out, until an antidote, vaccine is invented to cure and protect us from this deadly virus, those who were infected and recovered have a health-edge over those who never got infected. Who is the privileged one now?

Threat to Mental wellbeing

Being cornered by society and the immediate circle is a sting that humans are not immune to. The lockdown in most parts of the world, even for those who have stayed immune to Coronavirus, has posed difficulty to cope with the restriction to venture out for activities that were once considered absolutely normal. Adding fuel to the fire is the constant finger-raising towards those who’re underprivileged suffering with small spaces. Let’s consider one of the worst hit cities of India, Mumbai – that is not just densely populated but also is the national capital of the country. Over 40% of the city’s population live in slums, adding to over 9% in the country. Slums are a definition of space-starvation, and ironically the need of the hour is social distancing.

Apart from space there are a number of other basic hygiene constraints that the residents of these areas have been living with for decades. In the situation of a community spread, it would be next to impossible to curb the spread in the slums of the city unless the urban design allows for providing rehabilitation. Is that attainable though?

The community spread took the Covid-19 stats of the city of Mumbai to an all-new high causing them to be sealed. Containment of areas did not just seal residents in their box-sized and ill-ventilated homes, but also invited a permanent stigma from the rest of the society. Slum dwellers are worried to never find work again because no one would want them around their house or their cars, even after all this is over.

The new-born prejudice just like the outbreak of Coronavirus is highly probable to make history, not just in India but in various ways across the world.

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