The global spread of the virus has overwhelmed health systems and caused widespread social and economic disruption. The pandemic and epidemic diseases don’t only bring death and infection. The Chaos and helplessness that it causes expose the selfish and ugly face of humanity. The history of these diseases show a glimpse into their era and help us draw parallels between the past and the present.
What is the present and the future, if not a repetition of history?
Unfortunately, we are so deeply involved in the present and in the idea of the future that we fail to learn from the past. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, a tiny particle that has sent the world into a state of unorganised chaos, with countries across the world going into lockdown. Coronavirus is not the first pandemic that the human race is going through we have been through and survived a lot more pandemics and epidemics.
Today while we are facing an unprecedented threat, and aiming to overcome it by keeping aside all our differences and fight together for humanity, let’s have a look on the history of pandemic and at the previous victories of “humanity” against such widespread diseases.
Fear and hatred are strong emotions of a human being that fuel each other and overpower a person in such a way that the obvious becomes invisible and inhumane, impossible things become normal. The fear of death or infection fuel immense hatred towards the one person or community, that the mind believes are responsible for it. This leads to the creation of an imaginary wall between the person’s “own” people and the “others”.
The history of these widespread diseases shows that they are not just about death and survival, they are uglier than that ostracizing, scapegoating, victim-blaming, and marginalisation in some part of that ugly scenario.
Just how dark were the Dark Ages?
For instance, During the Black Death persecutions, which is estimated to have killed between 75 and 200 million people in the middle of the 14th century, arrived in Central and Western Europe in 1348. The pandemic spread through Savoy and soon began to kill people in the city of Basel convinced that the Jews of the city were dying of the disease less frequently than the Christians, the local population soon began to accuse the Jews of poisoning the wells. Although accurate statistical evidence is lacking, numerous theories have been put forward to explain why Jews may have appeared to have suffered less from the diseases. While one of these is based on the simple observation that Christians were less likely to see Jewish victims due to the fact they were buried in separate cemeteries, another suggests the strict Jewish dietary rituals mean that Jewish homes were much less appealing to the rats that are believed to have carried the plague.
under pressure from the powerful guilds, many of whom had obtained confessions from local Jews under torture, the city fathers responded with extraordinary ruthlessness. Having separated children from the parents, the adult Jews were taken to a specially constructed wooden barn on an island in the Rhine. Here they were shackled together and the structure set on fire leaving the victim to burn alive.
During cholera that affected the poor drastically, for instance, there was a popular rumour that doctors were poisoning and killing the infected to curb infection. In retaliation, riots broke out and doctors were burnt and killed. Cholera and Tuberculosis were identified as the diseases of the poor and therefore there was increased hatred fueled by fear among the rich and well off for the entire class.
During the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in both the USA and India. It was believed that the Almighty had unleashed the epidemic to punish homosexuals and sex workers were believed to acquire the illness because of their activities that were against religious scriptures. However, when later it was revealed that such beliefs were baseless, it did not make much of a difference the prejudice developed was too strong and people believed only what they like to.
Having looked at these traces of history, a pattern is visible with the outbreaks begin the blame game. Everybody protects themselves above all and the most vulnerable suffer tremendously, be it economically or by being held responsible for the disease. Those in a position of privilege look at the situation only through the glasses of the privilege and those in power use their power to turn things around. The police and the armed forces are given increased authority and many a time this authority is used for purposes other than controlling the spread of the disease. Where there is already distrust between the leaders and a community, things get worse and uncontrollable.
Comparing it to the pandemic that we are going through and the effects that it has had on our country, we have seen discriminations on various levels. Initially popularised as the “Chinese virus” because it originated from there, the people of China in other countries were looked at with suspicion and blame. In India, there were accounts the people from the North East being bullied and called “coronavirus”, next to the migrant workers that were returning to their states as a result of being rendered homeless and jobless, were seen as carriers of the virus. Finally, what seems like a continuation of an attempt to demonize the Muslim community, the virus became a “Muslim virus” after numerous attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat were tested positive. Presently we get to hear about incidents of discrimination against these communities daily.
Given the conditions we’re suffering from, we must reunite and fight against this invisible enemy. Cause only humans to see different religions, caste, color, and gender; the virus just sees a host it can overpower. The world has resorted to ‘live and let live’ situation where we support each other and help the other prosper so that we can also survive.