By: Mohmad Maqbool Waggy
As the pandemic COVID-19 has engulfed the whole globe, National governments and
International Organizations are making every effort to fight this pandemic. However a alarming
tendency that has materialized is social stigma and vigilantism. Reports have by now surfaced
of how people are facing social avoidance and discrimination. People associated with Tableegi
Jamaat are facing social humiliation and avoidance after few cases were reported positive from
NIzamuddin Markaz, a centeral office of Tableegi Jammat in New Delhi, where they held a
congregation. Recently many persons from Tableegi Jamaat have been beaten and even
lynched to death on the suspicion of being the carriers of virus. The killing of Mehboob Ali of
Bawana of Delhi by a mob is explicit substantiation of the alarming threat of social virus of
stigma and paranoia associated with COVID-19. The stigma has not even spared doctors and
nurses who are at the forefront of fighting the pandemic COVID-19 as they are not allowed to
enter their quarters by their landlords fearing of Infection.
A virus doesn’t discriminate on the basis of creed, color, race, religion and gender.
Discrimination is socially constructed. History offers us an unfortunate load of instances of
social stigmatization aimed at people who are ill or perceived to be ill. This was the case with
diseases like The Plague, Cholera, Tuberculosis, Malaria, HIV AIDS, Ebola and MERS etc. and it is
now with COVID-19. In the past the outbreak was associated to “low” and “immoral” groups of
people who were quarantined and avoided as a threat to society. The prototype has now
changed and the “low” and “immoral” people are identified as outsiders, immigrants, racial
minorities, and people of low socioeconomic status. It has now gone a step further and has
enveloped even the caregivers and the essential service providers such as doctors, nurses etc.
Stigmatizing outlook and behavior, including patient prejudice, discounting and discrimination
toward impacted populations have not only perplexed familial, social, and economic
relationships and infrastructures but they have also meddled and produced gigantic barriers to
access, prevention, and treatment. It therefore can be said that stigma is more than just a
negative outcome of certain diseases; it is an illness in itself, comorbid with respect to its clear
Stigmatization associated to COVID-19 in the first instance affects the self image. A person who
is declared positive of COVID-19 first reflects every prejudice and rejection learned in society
onto himself/herself. He or she is flooded with rational and irrational fears. Fear and silence take control over the life of the person diagnosed with COVID-19. Fears cloud over the
possibility of being recognized as an infected person, so he or she tries to hide what others
don’t know. Another facet that is accompanied to stigmatization is vigilantism. In this scenario
the disease is given tag on the basis of color, creed, class, race, religion and gender. People of
marginalized group are attributed to be the agent of disease and are disparaged. They are even
heckled and not allowed to enter into the society. Stigmatization divides the society into “us”
and “them” or “agency” and “vulnerable”. According to Kippax et al., the danger in separating
‘us’ from ‘them’, or ‘agency’ from ‘vulnerability’, is that it removes the power that vulnerable
populations have to act upon the social contexts driving their experiences, behaviors, and
In this backdrop it becomes imperative to be on wake-up call against the xenophobia and
persecution that emerged in the circumstances of COVID-19. It is shared as well as individual
responsibility on our part to apply every effort that will safeguard us from this social virus of
stigma. It disrupts the quality of life of affected persons. In order to challenge stigma and its
multiple and complex implications we must address it in multifaceted and multilevel
perspectives. Link and Phelan (2001) described that it must be multifaceted as to address all
possible consequences of stigma, and multilevel because it must address issues of individual
and structural discrimination. The fundamental approach to be adopted is to put an end to the
dichotomy of ‘stigmatized’ and ‘stigmatizer’ and challenge “us” versus “them” distinction that
enables people to set others apart as ‘different from the norm’, a key component of the
stigmatization process. In this direction all persons can act as change agents and accentuates
the need for self-reflection and awareness of preconceived notions.
Understanding stigma and discrimination as an exercise of power requires that to change and
transform stigma we must challenge the role of such groups in making their beliefs the
dominant ones. The structural violence is the core concept to understand stigma related to
COVID-19. Vigilantism and mob lynching are viewed as structural violence and intricately
related to stigma. Mob lynching and heckling of Muslims associated with Tableegi Jammat on
the suspicion of being virus carrier is evidence in itself.
To disseminate accurate information to communities impacted by COVID-19 in ways that
facilitate translation of information into action is another important aspect to fight stigma.
Recruitment and training of Popular Opinion Leaders (POL), may be beneficial. POL includes
members of a community who are highly respected and who may have the ability to mobilize
people to work for a common goal, in this case to fight stigma.
Multi-level community interventions that include accurate information about disease
transmission, skill-building, counseling and support, and testimonials from persons who
survived the disease as well as those who took care of COVID-19 patients may also be effective.
Certainly, stigma is not the only obstruction we face in our attempts to create effective
COVID19 prevention and care programs. Fissures in the scientific knowledge base, lack of prevention technologies, and resource constraints are among the many factors influencing the
success or failure of our efforts. But undoubtedly, stigma needs to be recognized as a
continuing impediment to COVID19 prevention and care programs. As civilized citizens, it is our
responsibility to work toward minimizing the negative health consequences of COVID19 stigma.
(The author is Research Scholar Central University of Kashmir)