Tragedy unfolded in Shillong, Meghalaya, in the wee hours of April 15 when Dr Sailo, one of the most distinguished doctors from the state passed away in the wee hours of the morning from the coronavirus. It left his loved ones in a state of anguish that would soon turn to embarrassment, as despite their repeated requests, locals of Meghalaya did not allow his body to be buried or cremated. This can solely be attributed to the "corona stigma" that has spread its tentacles across India, where awareness regarding the virus still leaves much to be desired.
In a country that is trying to shed its part of casteism and untouchability to fit itself into the modern social fabric, such tendencies of "distancing" were witnessed again when Dr Sailo was not allowed to be cremated or buried after his tragic death. In fact, people, believing that the 'infection' could spread further from the dead doctor's corpse, took to the streets in large numbers to oppose his last rites.
After his death, the doctor’s body was taken to the electric crematorium of Jhalupara, where the locals vehemently opposed his cremation. Would not allow 50 people to die for the sake of one, they said. 200-300 people then poured out onto the streets and opposed the crenation, fearing an outbreak of the virus in the overcrowded area. The situation got so out of hand that police personnel and high-ranking officials were deployed in the area to curb the protest.
"They were afraid that the fumes or something would carry the virus. Thus, the people panicked and then they began protesting against it due to their fear of the virus", Patricia Mukhim, Editor of The Shillong Times, told Inside Northeast.
Mukhim had earlier taken to social media to condemn the incident. "Humanity has plunged to its nadir in Meghalaya. Relatives of Dr Sailo are not allowed to cremate his body because people of the locality around the crematorium are up in arms. Paranoia and ignorance will be our biggest killers", she wrote on Facebook.
Over in Ri-Bhoi district, where the doctor owns a farmhouse, locals did not give "permission" to bury the body either. The village council held a meeting at the end of which it was "unanimously decided not to allow the burial of the body of Dr Sailo in Nongpoh, based on the following reasons: That the residents have panicked hearing the news, because the farmhouse is in between the village, that the doctor is not a permanent resident of Nongpoh and there has been no safety concerning such cases." It is pertinent to mention here that once, Dr Sailo had met village leaders of Nongpoh to request his burial at his farmhouse in Nongpoh.
After much ado, the doctor will now be laid to rest at the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Lawmali on Thursday morning. This was confirmed by the Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong, who had made the announcement on Wednesday. The family of the deceased doctor will now heave a sigh of relief, but the scars will take time to heal, it is certain.
Subjected to ostracism and a "witch-hunt" allegedly on social media, the son-in-law of the doctor who is a pilot who had flown in from the US recently, has also expressed his pain and sorrow. In an open letter to the citizenry at large, the man expressed, "The coronavirus is a tiny virus- unseen, lifeless yet intelligent. And yet, it has made us humans, the greatest creation of God, show our ugliest side."
"My father-in-law literally spent his life in the treatment of his patients. This is not an acceptable way to honour his memory", he further appealed.
Meghalaya Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma had perhaps foreseen that things could potentially take an ugly turn when he appealed the people to maintain decorum in this world ravaged by the corona.
"There is a notion in people’s mind that this disease can spread by looking at somebody. I think we need to get the facts clear, you know, if we are maintaining our social norms, if we ensure personal hygiene the chances of getting the virus is less,” the Meghalaya Chief Minister had said after the detection of the first case.
However, despite numerous appeals by the authorities, the panic and stigma over the COVID-19 continue to reign supreme. The concept of "social distancing" that was initially encouraged as a "social medicine" by health experts, has morphed into an "emotional distancing" whose ramifications will likely be felt in the post-corona world as well. The questions that arise now will be: are we still truly ourselves? Has the corona brought out the inner callousness in humans? Does the fixation on "distancing" our physical selves take its toll on our psychologies as well?
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