COVID-19 and Social Stigma: Fear, Harassment, and Discrimination

 Sayama  co-written by  Tehzeeb Anis


History is witness that every epidemic left a negative impact on the people who suffer from such diseases or who are suspected to have such diseases and COVID-19 is one such pandemic which has caused an enormous negative impact on health, economies, and even national security globally. India has witnessed many pandemics since the 1990s, such as SARS, swine flu, HIV, etc but none of the pandemics was as fatal as COVID-19.COVID-19 is a large-scale outbreak that can significantly increase morbidity and mortality in any country. There is an enormous social, political, and economic disruption due to this outbreak. This outbreak has brought along with it many negative effects; people have fear and anxiety, which is leading to prejudices against people and communities social isolation and stigma. Such behavior may result in increased hostility, chaos, and unnecessary social disruptions.[i] One of the most important side effects of COVID-19 is social stigma. Social stigma in the context of health is the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and specific diseases. In an outbreak, this may mean people labeled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, and /or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease. Social stigma is severe social disapproval of a person because of a particular characteristic that indicates their deviance from social norms. Social stigmas commonly related to culture, gender, race, intelligence, and health. It is associated with discrimination. Stigma and fear are the results of people’s poor knowledge about anything.

Many pieces of research show that people with diseases like – tuberculosis, HIV, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, have to faced discrimination and stigma, which force people to avoid testing or late testing of any disease until the disease increased. Most people who test positive often become fearful of seeking help or even do not want to discuss the symptoms.[ii] The case is very similar in a case with COVID-19. People due to the fear of social stigma and discrimination are hiding their illness, getting away from screened and are not seeking health care immediately which is a matter of concern. People are not only showing discrimination against the ill person but towards the whole family as a result of which the family members are also hiding the diseases of the sick person. Because of the lack of proper knowledge about the corona virus people are taking certain words related to the diseases in a negative way. Certain words like the suspected case, isolation, quarantine etc have created negative meaning for the people and fuel stigmatizing attitudes. These words can perpetuate existing negative stereotypes or assumptions, strengthen false associations between the diseases and other factors, create widespread fear, or dehumanize those who have the diseases.

Several stories of people facing social stigma and discrimination due COVID -19 is available on social media and newspapers, on how this outbreak has stigmatized the life of several people who are suffering from the diseases or who are just the suspected cases. According to a report published in the wire, it has been said that the stigma does not only attach to those who are sick (or suspected to be sick) but also to those who tend to them. It has seen in the case of COVID19 that neighbors denied entry to doctors and nurses, and they had to spend nights in cars and hotels.[iii]  In another report in India, Today reveals that a 37-year-old man Mohammad Dilshad who returned from Tablighi Jamaat committed suicide in his residence in Himachal Pradesh’s Una district. After facing the discrimination and social boycott by some villagers, who suspected him of being suffering from COVID-19 despite testing negative for it.  [iv] A similar case has been reported in Hindustan Times that a family lived in Italy and had come to their home in Kerela’s Ranny on Feb 29 on a three-week leave. After landing in India they test positive for COVID-19 a week later. Many people cursed them. Some of their family members said, “ you will not come alive from hospitals. They dubbed ‘super spreader’ by media. After shown the news on T.V channels, they got scared and stigmatized.   [v]Indian medical professionals are also now increasingly fighting on a whole new front in the COVID-19 battle stigma. In the outbreak of a pandemic, the country is reporting cases of doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals on the frontline of battle, being shunned by others for fear of being infected. This includes the threat of being evicted from their own apartments and general ostracism.[vi]The UNESCO chair for the promotion of the culture of peace and non-violence at the Manipal Academy of higher education in India reported that Muslim communities who represent the most significant minority of the country had been victims of attacks and other forms of discrimination amidst the pandemic. These situations started to emerge when the spread of allegedly associated with a gathering held by the Muslim missionaries movement in March. [vii]People who attended the Tablighi jamaat religious congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi face discrimination and allegation of the spread of COVID-19. Meeting held in mid –March and more than 5000 members, including foreigners, attended the jamaat. This is compounded by a large amount of fake news and false information being generated by Media and social media. People of Tablighi Jamaat face additional Social stigma and discrimination because of COVID-19.

COVID-19 patients may have to face social stigma and discrimination even after he has completely recovered from the illness. He/She may experience social avoidance, verbal abuse, discrimination into a form of denial of services such as housing, employment, health care, and in some cases, even physical violence. This may take a heavy toll on his physical and mental health, thereby increasing his vulnerability to conditions such as absolute depression, anxiety, and substance use[viii].

Being a highly infectious disease COVID-19 spreads fast and can infect anyone. Despite all precautions, if anybody catches the infection, it is not their fault. Patients and their family members need support and co-operation. They should be treated with love and care. Health care workers who provide medical care to the patient also need support, praise and appreciation. People should not spread the names or identities of those affected people on social media. Do not target healthcare and sanitary workers or police. Do not label any community or area for the spread of COVID-19. Misconception, rumors and misinformation contributing to social stigma and discrimination should be minimized. Collective solidarity is needed during this outbreak because facts, not fear, will stop the spread of COVID-19.

*Sayama- I am a research scholar of the department of sociology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, U.P

Email id — [email protected]

** Tehzeeb Anis- Research scholar of the department of sociology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, U.P

Email id – [email protected]











Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

My Pandemic in Three Acts

Dealing with the Disease that Never Seems to Leave Town On New Years’ Eve 2019, Americans celebrated the advent of the roaring ‘20s with fireworks and champagne, amid ominous news…

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News