From the Viewsroom

The other ‘epidemic’

Venky Vembu | Updated on March 28, 2020 Published on March 28, 2020

Needed: a cure for pseudo-intellectual theories on social distancing

One of the abiding lessons from the outbreak of Covid-19 worldwide has been that ‘social distancing’ works in limiting the spread of the epidemic, and secures a window of relief for healthcare professionals waging valorous battles to save lives. The measures — which include maintenance of spatial distance between people and other safety-first limitations on social interactions — have been recommended by world health bodies, and by renowned epidemiologists and other health professionals. And there is compelling evidence to establish that such measures — extreme, though, they may be — have helped limit the spread of the virus; conversely, in countries and cities where governments have failed to enforce ‘social distancing’ protocols sufficiently early, there have been unconscionably high incidence of Covid-19 infections.

The challenge of ‘social distancing’ is amplified in countries like India, given the high population density, and a widespread failure to acknowledge people’s personal spaces. Additionally, even in normal times, the tyranny of geography and the weather — given that India is a predominantly tropical country — compound the problem of an inadequate appreciation of personal hygiene. Grinding poverty doesn’t afford such luxuries either. Given all these limitations, India’s relative success in limiting the spread of the virus thus far is something of a marvel.

Yet, the strict enforcement of ‘social distancing’ norms in India to limit its spread, most strikingly with a nationwide 21-day lockdown, has regrettably spawned an epidemic of pseudo-sociological theories about the demerits of such isolation. Wannabe intellectuals and rent-a-quote motormouths have been making specious suggestions that ‘social distancing’ counts as a new form of ‘untouchability’ and a manifestation of casteism. Such theories are laughably off the mark. More than any other epidemic, Covid-19 has been a great leveller that acknowledges no national border or class or caste or religious divide. Social distancing has been proven to help limit its spread, and the universal truth for all times is that personal hygiene saves lives — of rich and poor alike. Divisive pop-sociological theorising is a luxury that can await another day.

Published on March 28, 2020

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