COVID Kerala

Quite recently, I have observed and spoken to dozens of people about the impact brought in by ongoing waves of recent pandemics in the name of Covid, Delta and Omicron. One must understand that the history of science demonstrates many more pandemics that took the toll of millions of people worldwide and in India.

COVID-19 was a once-in-a-lifetime event that struck numerous countries and towns at about the same time. Many people in India know the pandemic’s widespread mental effects and consequent lockdown. Regardless, a critical examination of India’s reaction to the outbreak reveals that “threads of health and relief activities remain at the forefront.” Unfortunately, the epidemic’s psychosocial components are generally unrecorded and overlooked, which has significantly impacted a wide range of families and individuals. Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered how we interact with one another and has kept the social relationship at bay with the continued threat of covid variant events today.

India as a nation has cherished with a great sense of vividness and cultural diversities of living together. The pandemic has not only impacted but also expanded the scope of groups and people who work against the very nature of being social. A great deal of literature has already shown how using terms like ‘social distancing’ itself was problematic. Whether it is social, physical or disease distancing, the distance has occurred among people. The agency that does not appreciate harmony, togetherness, solidarity and collective living has used the opportunities at its best.

My interactions with various people, namely; housekeeping workers, sanitation staff, and people at low paid jobs, show a better hope that showed social solidarity and collective livingness during the pandemic. Unlike the high-income group that remained highly conscious alert to maintain distance during the pandemic. Various sociologists have already proved how the urban population loses face-to-face contact and moves towards impersonal and goal-oriented interactions by nature of the society. In the 1920s, early sociologists like George Simmel, Louis Wirth, David Harvey, and others have shown how urban populations change their social behaviour compared to rural settlements.

Indian families today face vastly affected due to the ongoing pandemic by pushing out of employment sectors and losing nutrition and meals three times. Instead, a breakdown in social relations is a more severe threat to the harmonious thread Indian society had for centuries. The perspective about a divided society based on religion, race, ethnicity, caste and communities, languages and region could be different to the point I mentioned earlier in this write-up. The vast majority of the Indian population have lived in villages and communities. My sociological insights tell that communities have an inherent aspect of living together, in-group relationships and manifesting social solidarity at the time of crisis and resilience. Then why people with higher educational attainment and high-income groups have started living much in aloofness and distance? Is it due to their housing settlements or by class consciousness? One needs to explore the background of the continued pandemic in India.

Therefore, Pandemics and other disasters are known to have extensive psychosocial impacts. Physical isolation of individuals, families, or communities has faced non-pathological distress and mental health problems in a small minority. Further worsening of pre-existing problems like severe mental disorder, alcohol abuse, and humanitarian aid-related problems are possible psychological effects of a pandemic. They could be fear due to virus fear, death anxiety, diffused anxiety that is future-oriented, grief, the physical isolation of individuals, families, or communities. It has also led to non-pathological distress and mental health problems, namely; anxiety due to a lack of information about food distribution slightly but seriously.

Certain pre-emergency social problems (e.g. poverty; unemployment, economic disparities; being a member of a discriminated-against or marginalised group; political subjugation, caste-based exclusion etc. ) and emergency-induced social and economic problems (e.g. drastic drop in income generation, economic crisis, family separation; disruption of social networks; destruction of the community fabric, resources, and trust; increased violence against women and girls) are a serious concern to take into our understanding.

While emergencies will affect the whole population, particular groups will be disproportionately affected, such as women, children, the elderly, the poor, migrants, frontline workers, the marginalised, and those with pre-existing vulnerabilities (IASC 2007, 2015).

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the nature and pattern of social interactions and managing social relationships. Various studies (Brooks, S. K. et al. 2020; Harper, C. A., et al. 2020) have shown how a person’s emotional and social responses have changed due to the Covid pandemic. One would find that the facial expressions have changed during the pandemic to keep minimum interaction and keep physical distancing visa-vice virus away. Sociological and Psychological studies argue that facial gestures are essential for comprehending people’s emotions and intentions. There have also been some studies investigating the effect of covered faces on emotion perception, particularly Islamic veils or headdresses that could address only one religious group, but what about the worldwide population now that are forced to cover their faces. One would tend to say that covering the face by women is most relevant at the time of the pandemic, and this trend may increase across the religious group. However, this will need a proper investigation in future.

I find a breakdown in the social relationship was a reality in India due to various macro-level factors. However, people living in a utopian era that Indian society lives in joint family and social solidarity by its nature. The Covid pandemic has instead exposed the real issue and brought it onto the face of ordinary citizens, social scientists, and everyone concerned about the breakdown of social relationships. A lot of sincere efforts would be required to fill the increased gap in order to bridge the gap due to three years of pandemic.

Dr. K. M. Ziyauddin, Department of Sociology, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad

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