Perhaps the spread of rumour is faster than that of Covid 19, as positive cases with no travel history keep rising. Whatever be the terminology used by health officials in official communiques, community spread or transmission is very much evident in the state.
Ever since the outbreak of the pandemic, the fear of the virus has never been sharper as today. As the level of the fear increased in intensity, rumour mills started working overtime. Rumours fly in public places which was again compounded by the social media network. Only a few have the time or care to check the authenticity of the rumours doing rounds.
Previously, while government announced SOPs were of little concern to many among the general public and police forces had a difficult time in enforcement of the various restrictions. Many violated the curfew restrictions, social distancing was seldom maintained in public places or shops and temporary Corona markets.
Individual vegetable farmers from every nook and corner of the state find their way in the Imphal city by evading police patrols. Most local clubs were not mindful of the large number of vegetable hawkers in their vicinity. Police also made a daily ritual of announcing the daily collection of lakhs of rupees from curfew or lockdown violators, like an achievement of sorts while in fact, it was a clear indication of the failure of government imposed SOPs and restrictions in implementation, on the ground.
Now, the job has become a little bit easier, as the fear of the pandemic has taken hold of the public mind. In many places, local clubs have taken over the responsibility of enforcing the lockdown restrictions in their respective Leikais.
Earlier, shops on the main roads were restricted by police, while the small pan shops, groceries and hotels in the interior parts of the localities remain open. Now these small shops and hotels have been asked to down shutters by the respective local clubs and club members went on a vigil in the localities to check entry of outsiders. In some localities, even exit and entry are totally prohibited.
Caution and preventive measures are fine. But, acting on suspicion is not. What is most disturbing is the social discrimination or stigmatisation which usually follows such pervasive fear. Even a mere suspicion of coming into possible contact with Covid 19 positive persons make many families social outcasts in their own localities.
The stigma lingers even after negative status of Covid 19 has been established through tests. So, while the state’s job has been made easier by the pervasive fear, we should be mindful of the side-effects.
The government cannot afford to be complacent that certain local clubs have come forth to shoulder the responsibilities of the lockdown enforcement and rest easy.
Efforts should be upfront to make sense of the fear and control it so as not to disturb the social fabric. Social protocols need to be designed in such a way that stigma or friction are avoided.
July 28, 2020, 7:44 a.m.