The AP Family’s Suicide is Proof that Covid-19 Has Given Birth to a New System of Social Stigma


The AP Family’s Suicide is Proof that Covid-19 Has Given Birth to a New System of Social Stigma

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Since its arrival on the global stage in late 2019, and in India in early 2020, the novel coronavirus has reshaped our lives – not just our daily routines, but also the way we think and interact with one another. Unfortunately, for many people that change has included a large slice of fear and paranoia where the virus is concerned, which in turn has led to a culture of stigmatisation for those suffering from Covid-19. The burden of enduring such stigma can become overwhelming, and lead to tragedies like the triple suicide reported from Andhra Pradesh earlier this week, when the wife and children of a man who had died due to Covid-19 jumped off a bridge and took their own lives.

When 52-year-old Narasaiah died after contracting Covid-19, he was survived by his wife, 50-year-old Parimi Snuneetha, and their two adult children who were both in their 20s – Narasaiah Phanikumar and daughter Lakshmi Aparna. Four days after Narasaiah’s death, the family drove their car to a bridge and jumped into the Godavari River, leaving behind a suicide note. The note said that the family was a victim of the social stigma surrounding the coronavirus, and had decided to end their lives after none of their relatives came forward to support them after their loss.

The discrimination that led to the family to take their own lives is increasingly prevalent and visible in several different ways across the country. There have been reports of dead bodies of Covid-19 patients lying unclaimed in hospital wards, of doctors and medical staff being locked out of their own homes by paranoid neighbours, and tragically, even other cases of suicide by patients or their kin. In Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, the local MLA, Bhumana Karunakar Reddy, attended the funeral of a Covid-19 patient who had died after his family reportedly refused to accept the body. Reddy spoke at the funeral and asked for an end to discrimination against those who have tested positive for coronavirus.

The pandemic has introduced new faultlines in Indian society, and they are proving to be as divisive as the most strict interpretations of the caste system.