22 Jun 2020  |   06:53am IST

The social ‘stigma’ virus is affecting Vasco more than Coronavirus

Weddings of locals are getting boycotted; Leave applications of even some govt staff, to attend funerals in Vasco, come with conditions; Frustrated Vascokars want social discrimination to be quarantined indefinitely
The social ‘stigma’ virus  is affecting Vasco  more than Coronavirus

Dhiraj Harmalkar

Vasco: The first case of CoVID-19 positive was found on June 1, 2020 in Mangor Hill and on the same evening, that part of Mangor Hill was cordoned off and became Goa’s first "containment Zone" with total restriction on the movement of the people. Since that day, CoVID testing was carried out in the containment zone and day by day cases started surfacing. Later, cases were detected in the periphery of this containment zone and this sparked the plague of social stigma, panic, and discrimination in the minds of the people from rest of Goa.

People who were working and residing in Vasco and in Mormugao taluka have had to face lot of humiliation and discrimination from the people of other parts of Goa.

A reporter from South Goa’s mining belt, untouched by COVID cases, suddenly finds that he will hardly have guests for his wedding due next week. When neighbours and other villagers learnt that the bride was from Vasco, they decided to politely but firmly refuse. The journalist was shocked when people he knew for long told him that the bride would “bring Coronavirus to the village”, though the wedding has been planned strictly according to guidelines from the Union government.

In yet another incident, a fairly well-known person in the political circles of Vasco said that one of his relative's father urgently had to undergo surgery for Hernia. The hospital in South Goa asked them to get the patient's CoVID-19 negative certificate just because the person is from Vasco but not within any of the containment areas where mass testing is going on.

The stigma saga has not even spared government officials. One of the health staff from the Bicholim area wanted to attend the funeral of his relative in Vasco. He was told by his office (the Health Department of the Goa Government) to take 15 days leave if he went to Vasco for the funeral. There is absolutely no rule or guidelines which necessitates this.

Gaurish Naik, a Resort Manager in Mollem, also shared his experience as he stays in Vasco. Recently, he too felt the fumes of social stigma related to Coronavirus. Some villagers and his sub-ordinate colleagues started behaving differently with him. He even said that he was asked by some people to avoid coming to the resort as he lives in Vasco.

But Naik choose to take the proverbial bull by its horns. He met the locals at Mollem explained to them that he follows the social distancing, wears a mask, and sanitizes his hand and that the villagers should also follow the MHA safety guidelines rather than just discriminating. Naik said that more awareness among people about the Coronavirus pandemic is needed to stop the social stigma and discrimination with regards to COVID crises.

One more person working in Mormugao Port Trust revealed that after the CoVID cases started surfacing in Mangor Hill area and other parts of Vasco, trucks which were plying from Sanguem and Sanvordem area have stopped coming.

And then came his telling comment, which should be an eye-opener “It is very sad that people in other parts of Goa treat people from Vasco as if entire Vasco and Mormugao taluka has been affected by this virus. People should think rationally and should stop discrimination.”

Fr Bolmax Pereira, parish priest Chicalim said, "It is a pandemic. Coronavirus doesn't choose whom it is going to infect. I think people should actually consider themselves infected, this will help our attitude towards those who are infected". 

Even if you are not infected, you are bound to think you are infected  and how people should treat me once it is declared that I am infected.

He also opined that in most of such cases the family members of the patient and the patient tend to feel lonely and left out by the other people of the society due to discriminative and stigmatised attitude towards CoVID cases.

“We must not forget that the recovery rate of the people who have been infected with the Coronavirus is high and the mortality rate in India is also less. But the problem with the people is that if someone develops the symptoms of Coronavirus, people feel uncomfortable disclosing it or even consult their nearest government health center fearing that they will be the victim to the stigma and social exclusion if they are tested CoVID positive. This is actually harmful to society. If these infections go unnoticed then the chances of the infection spreading are higher," Fr Pereira added.

Arunendra Pandey, president of  the Mormugao-based ARZ Goa, said, "there needs to be understanding among people with regards to how Coronavirus spread. Most of the people from Goa don’t understand the geography of Vasco town. Mangor and the Sada itself does not mean the entire Vasco town. There are preventive measures to keep the virus at bay and we need to follow these safety norms strictly.” 

Further commenting on the discrimination of the Vasco people he said that it has indeed been happening. Many people working in some private companies and industrial areas have been asked by their employers not to report to the office. Further, their salaries are being deducted for the number of days they are not reporting on the job. People are not hiring services from the people of Vasco as there were COVID cases detected in Mangor area.

But we must understand that as the infectious cases of CoVID were detected in Mangor, similarly some cases might resurface in other parts of Goa. Then can they be also discriminated like this?, Pandey asks.

Bharat Kamat, a member of Vascokars United social group, opined that the govt has failed to address the concern of the people. People have been misled with fake messages about the dangers of Coronavirus via social media posts. It is a fact that not even two percent of the people contracting Coronavirus die.

But it is the living who live with the stigma, just by being residents of a big town close to the Corona hotspot. They are victims of misplaced notions of geography and prejudiced mindsets.


Iddhar Udhar