Social Distancing leading to Social Indifference, and Irreversible Social Conflicts

social distancing

            After a long time I came out of my home yesterday (14.04.2020) for a stroll in the corridors of our apartment. I  was laid down by a paralytic stroke more than a year ago, and  am yet to recover my  full movements. Incidentally, I bumped on my neighbour. The moment she saw me, she said “Ah, Long Time… Not seen…. ”. For which, I responded saying “Well, Thanks to the Lockdown!”

After the above small talk, I contemplated the whole night about how social distancing has affected our social relationship.  It could have been – rather it should have been – called physical distancing but the word social distancing continues to be used officially. In fact, sections of media chose and are using the word physical distancing.

As trained Psychologists and also Motivational Trainers know, I know that if one is interested in cultivating certain good habits, it is adequate if one practices what one wants to cultivate continuously for 21 days.

In fact 21 days is a ‘magic time’ for cultivating any habit! If the same is continued for another 21 days, it will become one’s ‘CHARACTER’.

In our tradition, we call it as one Mandalam (42 days)!

We have been practicing social distancing for more than 21 days, which is likely to be continued for another 21 days!

I am afraid that the 42 days of our seclusion/ social distancing will cause indifference and accelerate irreversible social conflicts which will tear down the social fabric, eternally.

One may argue that social distancing was inevitable to contain the spread of corona virus. True, besides extending medical logistics like early testing of the symptomatic and asymptomatic people and providing quarantining facilities, social distancing was recognised to contain the rapidity of the COVID-19 spread.

But I am worried about the psychological and social consequences of this physical distancing. Social interactions, the bedrock of our social fabric, are getting weakened and likely may fade away, in the long run.Already projections are that Covid-19 may continue to trouble the mankind for upto two more years, 2022.

The Covid positive person may be asymptomatic, it is said. (In fact I noticed statistics  given by ICMR later on April 21 that they are 69 percent of all the positive cases. A ratio of 1:2 ! So far, over four lakh samples were tested, and of these 18600, 4.6 percent cases, were reported positive, Times of India reported.)  Today’s negative case may be positive tomorrow, reports show. And they may be asymptomatic! What are the implications of social distancing in such a situation?

Fortunately, majority of Indian population live in crowded apartments, and congested localities, and slums in cities. Census data confirm that a huge section live in one-room tenements, where bed-room, kitchen, and dining room are all three in one. For them social, i.e., physical distancing, is next to impossible.

But the middle classes, ridden by the panicky, often unverified and unscientific reports are lost into social distancing.

If we imbibe the social indifference as a CHARACTER in us, we will be doomed, I am afraid. If we have to face another catastrophe like ‘Chennai floods’ or ‘Kerala deluge’…I shudder to think of the impact of social distancing.

One may argue that people are responding to the social distancing, positively, because of their social concern and hence social concerns can eventually become our ‘character’.

I beg to differ with this argument, as I feel that the response for social distancing has emanated more from personal concern and less from social concern. Again, if personal concern becomes the motive and imbibed as our character, it will only strengthen the vested interests as the NORM and social interest as an EXCEPTION.

Some may feel that I am exaggerating the consequences! Whereas as a psychologist, I strongly believe how a habit is cultivated and how one cultivates the habit as one’s CHARACTER!

And given India’s social stratification by caste, it has implications of reinforcing it, even if unintentionally.

            If the social distancing is extended for two more months, we will live to see the consequences in the coming years and will be wondering how the society would become utterly indifferent and callous towards the rest in the humanity. Our callousness and indifference towards the marginalised and the disadvantaged is already evident.

The vilification of the entire Muslim community as the source and carrier of COVID-19 in India is just one example of how this social distancing and the very corona virus has been “communalised”, leading to a social pandemic.

The communal virus is far more virulent and faster in its spread, aided and abetted by sections of media, which bombard us 24×7 thanks to the lockdown.

Xenophobia unleashed against the migrant workers is yet another dimension of how the ramification of the virus has further marginalised the disadvantaged.

These instances are bound to create irreparable schisms in our social fabric and adversely affect the much required social cohesion among and for the marginalised.

It is paradoxical that we are discussing about this social indifference on the day of Birth Anniversary of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, who championed the cause against social ostracisation and gave a clarion call for Annihilation of the Inhuman Caste System and Untouchability.

It is sad that we are nurturing a “neo-untouchability” on this very day!

(The author, a retired bank officer, has been a social and cultural activist. He is an office-bearer of PUCL, Tamilnadu Unit. He was laid down by a paralytic stroke more than a year ago, and is yet to recover his full movements. Please note it was written on April 14, and was slightly revised later.)




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