• Abass Rather
• Aqib Yousuf
Ever since the outbreak of Covid 19 pandemic, the fear of getting infected was always there. No matter how courageous one pretends to be. Everyone utilised all resources to save themselves from it in the first stage of it and in the first lockdown period. As the days progressed, different stories among the masses got cooked up and some bluntly refused to accept its existence. The build up of conspiracy theories engulfed the common ignorant masses and people unhesitantly started to believe these home made conspiracy theories. This is the period when even some reasonable person began to question the validity and authenticity of the virus. The first unlockdown period made it worse as people started mingling with one another without taking the precautionary measures in place. Today it is in the community and its devastating effect can be seen from the fact that the renowned doctors from the reputed medical institutions are voicing their concern with folded hands on different platforms. Here in Kashmir the mortality rate has also risen up.
We have a first hand experience of this virus and here we are going to share our own experiences with you. We voluntarily did our Covid 19 test on 14th July, along with our family members. We had known symptoms like fever, coughing and uneasiness. Our result came on 20 th July,. The news of our being Covid positive jolted many people but we were prepared for the result and faced the news quite courageously. The report of the test comes very late and this puts other people on high risk. However, we had already home quarantined ourselves and because of this precaution we were successful in keeping this virus away from our family. They all tested negative. We don’t know where from we contracted this virus and this clearly proves the point that it is in the third stage i,e in community and anyone can get infected if proper precautions are not taken. We were taking certain precautions like to keep ourselves away from the unknown persons but it was difficult to keep distance from the people around our community.
After our being declared positive we got the phone call from the health department regarding our shifting to administrative quarantine centre. We fully cooperated with them and prepare ourselves mentally for the administrative quarantine centre. This created panic among the people and they started whispering with one another. We voluntarily went for the testing as we believe that such things needs treatment and not hiding. People are afraid of getting tested as the reasons of being getting alienated from the society. Our society is still underdeveloped which considers such illness as stigma. We need to come out of this mind set that ‘what people will think.’ Our health and the health of our elders should be the priority. People are dying without taking medical care in fear of the social stigma. It is not the time to fear anyone but to face such situations boldly and courageously. We need to develop the sceientific temper and the sooner we do it, the better it would be for the whole humanity.
We were shifted to Ekleway Covid 19 administrative quarantine centre Tangmarg Noorabad Aharbal. Our first night in the quarantine centre was quite disturbing as we could not sleep whole night. We got calls from many people and every one has their own suggestions to share with us. Some were encouraging and some where reprimanding us for doing the test. Aharbal is well known health resort in Kashmir and people visit this place in the summer for its natural scenery and fresh climate. The fresh and unpolluted air with a soothing breeze lessened our tension and gave new and fresh vigour to us to fight this disease. The staff of this quarantine centre from mess staff to medical staff were cooperative and friendly. The services of Masood Ahmad and Numan Malik from the mess staff and from the medical staff the humbleness and supportive role of Gowher Ali, sanitary inspector are commendable who left no stone unturned to help and give moral support to all the positive patients of this centre. Manzoor Ahmad who is teacher by profession is voluntarily giving his services since the establishment of this centre. His dedication and humanitarian approach encourages some of the patients to lend the helping hand to the fellow patients.
Gowher Ahmad, Sanitary inspector, who is posted in the Covid 19 hospital Eklaway Tangmarg Noorabad Kulgam while sharing his experiences with us, stated, ” We always try our best to be friendly and cooperative with positive patients as we know that they are facing psychological trauma after coming to know about their being Covid positive. We monitor that these patients need love and humane approach more than anything else.” While talking about the social stigma, he added, ” it is unfortunate that the projection of this disease as a stigma has kept people away from coming forward for testing and subsequently it ll have disastrous effect in the future.”
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It is because of the fear of the social stigma that patients hesitate to seek medical help from the hospitals and self medication has become the norm of the day. This self medication usually makes the conditions of the patients worse . Many Covid patients die unreportedly as they did not seek any medical attention.
Majority of Covid patients in the centre were either having mild symptoms or asymptomatic. They were not ready to accept the reality of being positive Covid patients. We knew it is because of the threat of the social stigma and discriminatory attitude of which they faced once the news of their covid positive broke. We tried to convince them that the only cure for this disease is to accept the reality and educate people of having scientific approach. The use of some words like ‘social distancing’ by the government in preventing the disease to get spread proved to be more lethal for the patients as the community cut all relations with them. This is the wrong projection of words. ‘Physical distancing with social solidarity’ is the appropriate phrase to be used.
After spending stipulated time in the quarantine centre our second sample was taken and the report came negative. We were allowed to go to our home but people in our vicinity changed their ways whenever they see us. The days in the quarantine did not hurt us as much as the attitude of the society does. We believe it is due to the lack of awareness and counselling and the wrong projection of the disease. The govt and the civil societies must come forward in mitigating this social stigma from the society by disseminating the constructive information and counselling the general masses. it is immensely important to mitigate the stigma to make communities and community members courageous to fight this virus. The sooner we realise this, the better it would be for the whole humanity. There will be the scientific cure for the disease but the cure of stigma needs social understanding and mutual respect.(CC)
Abass Rather is a socio-political activist And Aqib Yousuf is a student of Law at Kashmir University. Both resides in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district.