AR Vasavi – a social anthropologist – who is engaged with Punarchith, an organisation for alternative learning in Chamarajanagar, said this is the third incident (two in Chamarajanagar and one in Mysuru) of people ending their lives due to Covid-related stigma that has come to her notice.Cases in rural Karnataka continue to surge.(This story originally appeared in on Jun 06, 2021)
Mahadevappa, 46, a small farmer, had been living happily with his family in Mookahalli, Chamarajanagar district, about 180km from Bengaluru, till recently. He was quite popular in the village as he delivered milk to several households every day.
But his life turned upside down after he was infected with Covid-19 on May 24. His family members, including daughters Jyothi, 14, and Geetha, 12, were allegedly ostracised by the villagers. They not only stopped buying milk from him but also did not allow his wife Mangalamma, 40, to fetch water from the public tap.
The family felt even more humiliated when their relatives and friends in the village did not comfort them. On June 2, Mahadevappa, his wife and daughters, hanged themselves from the ceiling of their house, police said.
As cases continue to surge in rural Karnataka, instances of social ostracism due to misinformation are being reported from many parts.
“Initially, police dismissed it as a suicide case due to financial stress, but many got to know the genuine reason after Mahadevappa’s elder daughter, who is married and stays in another village, narrated their ordeal. They had shared it with her a few days before they took the extreme step,’’ said AR Vasavi, a social anthropologist and former professor at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.
“What’s also worrying her is that the family belonged to the upper caste (Lingayats) and the villagers who ostracised them are also from the same religious group,’’ she added.
Vasavai, who is also engaged with Punarchith, an organisation for alternative learning in Chamarajanagar, said this is the third incident (two in Chamarajanagar and one in Mysuru) of people ending their lives due to Covid-related stigma that has come to her notice.
“Social stigma attached to Covid is extreme in rural districts. Only a wide and active awareness campaign will normalise the discussion around the illness,” she added.
On May 10, 50-year-old Hanumanthu, who lived in Advimallanakeri village in Ballari district and was under home isolation after contracting the infection, allegedly ended his life because neighbours accused him of “bringing doom” to the village. He was a construction labourer.
Rise in Covid-related suicides has been reported in other districts too, but several cases have been registered by police with different reasons since family members of the victims are wary of accusing the villagers.
According to public health experts and medical practitioners in the frontline of the fight against the disease, stigma and ostracism faced by patients and their families are deterring effective tackling of the pandemic.
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