Social Embracing & the Socially Embarrassing

02 Apr,2020


By Avik Chattopadhyay


‘Social distancing’ is not a new phenomenon. We humans have been practising it for centuries. As religions. As castes. As ethnicities. As colours. As genders. Just that in all previous occasions, there were only some of us who were inflicted with this while a larger population continued life unfettered and unabated.


The current phase of social distancing affects us all and it is seemingly for our collective good. Positives are being drawn from ‘living in one’s own cocoon’ by the sections of society that have the means and the diversions to afford one. For the larger population it is a huge disruption in life, not just physically but also emotionally. And it is the latter type of disruption that does things to the mind. Fear. Anxiety. Vacuum. Solitude. Recognition.


If I were to study the current pandemic socially, those regions of the world that thrive on “social embracing” are most affected. This embracing manifests in the form of tourism. Italy. Spain. France. Singapore. Hong Kong. East and West coasts of the US. The pattern is very clear. Thousands of Chinese, not knowing they are affected, went for their annual vacations on the occasion of their new year. Hundreds of Chinese firms arrange these vacations as part of their annual incentives. Every year they are welcomed with open arms as they bring in livelihood and GDP. I have heard that in Paris, the numbers are so huge that the Chinese embassy is allowed to bring in their own security personnel to ward off muggings and snatchings! Such is the power of the Chinese tourist! It was the same for the Japanese and Koreans a few decades ago.


The equation has changed, and how, in the matter of a couple of months. Today, the rest of the world looks at a Chinese with huge levels of suspicion. Conspiracy theories go around about how their government has actually orchestrated this for world economic domination. And the social media is awash with how we should isolate the country and ban its people and products.


Going by that logic, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, US and Japan should have been banned already! For each of them, in the due course of their economic progress has wantonly and repeatedly killed millions of people, either at war or in colonies or, just like that [applies most to the US]!


Social distancing is a medical practice. It is temporary, imposed by a government and is not at all to be stretched beyond its medical health benefits on to any other socio-economic aspect of life.


This disruption actually needs Social Embracing. And it need not be physical at all, but emotional and sociological.


It needs the government to think of all consequences before passing an executive order. Even a single death of a migrant on a highway deprived of food and water is due to the Prime Minister’s obsession with grandstanding and hyperbolic announcements. The responsibility of lakhs of people getting displaced due to chaos and confusion created by his executive order lies squarely on his shoulder. We have meekly lived through Demonetisation, GST and CAA. Expecting us to endure one more example of shoddy planning and execution is sheer social elitism!


It needs all the privileged segments of society to come together and support the others. We are a 200 million middle class boasting of a smartphone, loyalty programmes and online shopping. Each of us need to take up the cause of just 5-6 underprivileged around us in these trying times for them through food, basic medicines, some money and the mental comfort of societal support.


It needs industry bodies and corporates to forget their differences and plunging revenue charts to collaborate for large-scale interventions. Lakhs of truck drivers were stranded on the borders, soon to be joined by lakhs of migrant workers the next day, on the highways. It has taken the relevant industry and trade bodies more than 6 days to come up with a plan to reach out food and water to them! Just because the bodies have long-standing internal differences, an insider told me.


It needs each of us not to consider suffering from Covid-19 as a stigma and go about socially ostracising people who have been inflicted or have family members suffering so. Patients need support and lots of encouragement. They have been part of the social ecosystem for so long and suddenly how can they be wished away? Authorities have been putting up notices in front of the houses having Covid-19 patients / quarantined. It is easy for us to identify the homes and decide what to do…either we leave “Get well soon!” cards and flowers at the gates every morning or we point fingers at the gates and avoid them like the plague. The former is what I mean by Social Embracing” and the latter is what I call “Socially Embarrassing”.


Living in tiny apartments, playing the same music on some app and uploading that video is socially embarrassing.


Sharing and forwarding insensitive posts on one particular country, region and people is socially embarrassing.


Beating up fellow citizens labelling them as so-and-so is socially embarrassing.


Sharing pics on social groups of which triple-cask single malt would you be enjoying this evening is socially embarrassing.


Holding religious sermons and gatherings wilfully endangering thousands of lives in the name of a “god” is socially embarrassing.


And, apologising on a national radio address for the trauma that millions of migrant working citizens have to go through is most definitely socially embarrassing!



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