The world is now combating the global pandemic called COVID-19. Barely a few countries which are untouched by this global enemy are there on the map. Not only the health of humankinds has been threatened and at a risk but also it has adversely halted almost every sphere of life at present. People have been confined within the four water-tight walls of the house in many countries due to lockdown in order to avoid COVID-19 contraction. Academies like universities and schools, public places, clubs, theatres, etc. have been locked for several months and weeks. The world economy has been terribly collapsed and paralyzed since almost all the economic activities have been kept at a bay for months to avoid the contraction of the disease. Many investors and businessmen are at the verge of bankruptcy. Some experts and analysts even claim that it is the time for power-shift among the “Super-powers”.
The term “disease” itself makes us feel awful to hear it since we connote the different negative images associated with it such as pain, suffering, bodily disorder, loss of money, hospitalization, medication, so and so. Since the COVID-19 is a new phenomenon to the world, it has caused terror, horror, anxiety, fear and dilemma in the minds of people. Particularly, China has been accused of transmitting the virus by the USA. The US president even insisted on naming the virus as “the Chinese Virus”. People of the Asian descent have been assaulted and misbehaved throughout the world as Mexicans and many Latinos were scapegoated during the H5N1swine flu outbreak in 2009, whereas people of African descent were scrutinized during the ebola outbreak in 2014. During this stressful time, those people who have travelled from one place to another, health professionals and emergency responders have been the victim of social stigma. The COVID-19 pandemic, which started in the city of Wuhan, Hubei, China, in December 2019, has led to an increase in acts and displays of sinophobia as well as prejudice, xenophobia, discrimination, violence, and racism against people of East Asian and Southeast Asian descent and appearance around the world. With the spread of the pandemic and formation of hotspots, such as those in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, discrimination against people from these hotspots has been reported. The incidents also led to increase in acts and displays of islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and antisemitism.
According to the Embassy of Japan in Egypt, store clerks have been hesitating to serve Japanese customers. A video of the driver removing his Chinese passenger out of his vehicle went viral on social media. An East-Asian couple was abused and threatened in Kenya by the crowd. A Kenyan member of parliament posted in a Facebook message that his constituents had the right to stone and chases away any Chinese visitors who were not quarantined. Natives of Wuhan China were also turned away from the hotels in other provinces and cities. China Southern Airlines refused to board 16 passengers of Wuhan city on January 27. The anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese discrimination was on the rise in Indonesia. Indian Islamic cleric Ilyas Sharafuddin said in an audio address that the corona virus outbreak was a “Punishment of Allah on China for mistreating Uighur Muslims”. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s State unit president in West Bengal Dilip Ghosh stated that the Chinese had “destroyed nature” and “that’s why the God took revenge against them.” Muslim gatherings organized by the Tablighi Jamaat has resulted in large increased of cases in India which triggered Islamophobia. In Japan, the hashtag #ChineseDontComeToJapan had been trending on Twitter. Some other Asian countries such as Iran, Iraq, Israel, Bangladesh, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Malysia, Palestine, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Srilanka, Thailand, Vietnam, the UAE etc. also had such cases of social stigma and xenobhobia associated with the corona virus. The cases of racism in Europe are also on the rise. An Asian woman was called “Corona Virus”, threatened and spat on by five youths in Belgium. Some other men of the Asian origin were punched, harassed and misbehaved. Nepalese dwelling in the UK too faced racist attack amid COVID-19 fears. Two cars belonging to former Gurkhas were set on fire in Maidstone, UK. There are many instances of Nepalese being victim of xenophobia in the UK. When Roshan Gurung was walking on the street of Bristol, a man yelled at him asking at what price he was selling bats and congratulated him sarcastically for spreading COVID-19. These are only a few representative instances of xenobhobia and stigma. According to a tally compiled by Russel Jeung, professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, there were a few thousand incidences of xenobhobia and racism against Asian Americans between January 20 and February 24, 2020. According to “Stop AAPI Hate”, an online reporting forum, there were 1,497 reports of discrimination against Asian Americans by 15 April, 2020 in the USA.
Scenario of Social Stigma Associated with COVID-19 in Nepal
A migrant worker who fled from the quarantine attempting to go home was sabotaged by the villagers in Chhededaha Rural Municipality of Bajura district in Sudur-Pashchim Province of Nepal fearing that he would transmit the disease to other people. According to the reports, he had recently returned from India. As such, many returnees from India have been harassed, suspected and misbehaved in Nepal. Due to Islamophobia, Muslims were also suspected at the initial phase of contraction in Nepal. A tenant nurse was summoned to leave her rented room by the ward–chairperson in Dang district fearing the covid-19 transmission. Most of the private hospitals of Nepal stopped providing OPD service to the patients amid corona fears. Rumors and misinformation about corona virus ran rampant. As a result, women in Brigung (Parsa district) began worshipping the cow as the symbol of Goddess Corona to get rid of corona outbreak. People began digging the yard in front of their house in far-western and mid-western Nepal to take out the soot(black powder out of burnt firewood), made Tilak(Black Tika) and started putting on their forehead to avoid the corona virus contraction. Vegetable-stuffs transported to Arghakhanchi district from Kapilvastu was dumped in the presence of the police stating that it had been from the corona hotspot. Many health workers, bankers, emergency responders have been ordered to leave the rented rooms by their house-owners including in Kathmandu valley.
Blaming and shaming certain groups of people is not the solution to the problem rather it worsens the condition, increases hostility resulting in difficulty to combat the pandemic. The disease may or may not kill the suspected person but stigmatization, abandonment, hatred and isolation does. Hence, it is a must to show love towards suspected and contracted persons, support and respect the health workers, emergency responders, government officials and so on to win this battle against COVID-19.
Writer is an English lecturer at Phalaharibaba Multiple Campus, Kapilvastu Nepal