The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has described social distancing as a set of “methods for reducing frequency and closeness of contact between people in order to decrease the risk of transmission of disease”. But social distancing does not mean we disconnect from our loved ones, discriminate or inflict violence. In the current situation, it simply means that we protect ourselves from the transmission of the Covid-19 virus.
But what actually happened?
What did manifest under the larger ‘practise’ of social distancing is the surfacing of our evils as a society. The past few weeks have only shown us how we let ourselves down as a society and harmed one another. While it was supposed to be a time to unite and help our fellow people survive this pandemic, what actually happened was a vicious display of our Brahmanical tendencies of segregation, discrimination and violence.
To put it simply – distancing works in the form of drawing circles in chalk to stand in while at the grocery store. What does NOT constitute distancing is preventing students from Nagaland from buying food.
Here is why we need to address the difference between physical distancing to keep ourselves safe and why ‘social distancing’, given its practises, is a terrible idea.
What we need as a society while practising physical distancing:
- Safe homes for everyone.
- Compensation and shelter for daily-wage workers who have been cut off from their only source of income.
- Paid leave for domestic help.
- Attending to the needs of people who are away from their home and family.
- Universal access to food, shelter and healthcare.
- Ensuring that all communities and locales have access to essential items.
What actually happened in the name of ‘social distancing’:
- Doctors and cabin crew personnel being pressurised by their landlords to vacate their homes.
- The mass exodus of workers from cities left stranded with no income and no home.
- Domestic helpers not being allowed to enter residential areas and employers refusing their wages.
- Increased isolation and racial attacks on people from the north-east states.
- Spraying migrant workers with disinfectant – as though they are insects.
- Isolating an entire village just because it is called ‘Korauna’.
‘Social Distancing’ resulted in all our faults as a society to bare its ugly face. Preventing the transmission of highly contagious diseases does not include racism, casteism, classism and every form of violence there is. Discriminating against entire communities will not save us. Looking out for the people around us while simultaneously keeping a physical distance from each other will.
The World Health Organisation has also recommended ditching the term ‘social distancing’ and replacing it with physical distancing. That being said – the reason given for switching ‘social distancing’ with physical distancing is to encourage people to stay connected with one another through the means of technology. What was also needed in this reasoning was taking a firm stand against the social boycott and violence against certain communities in this process of changing terminology.
The practice of distancing is not one where we should forget our sense of community, our roots in society and the human rights that you, I and everyone around us are entitled to. We can remain connected with each other and at the same time – we can also hold on to empathy and push ourselves to create norms that expel prejudice and usher in an era of kindness and compassion.