Living with Corona:
Social and cultural consequences

Suchismita Sen Chowdhury

The World Health Organization (WHO)1 declared on January 30, 2020 Covid-19 a “public health emergency of international interest”, while on March 11, 2020 the spread of Corona virus was declared a “pandemic”. According to WHO Corona virus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus creates respiratory problems. The people at high risk are aged individuals or persons having health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer. Since there was no vaccine for the virus, it is important to take preventive measures.  

The first death in India due to Novel Corona Virus was reported from Karnataka on 10th March, 2020. The dead person was a 76 year old man (The Hindu,12-03-20)2. Just after that Karnataka government and Delhi government ordered suspension of classes at schools (The Times of India,13-03-20). On the same day the number of confirmed cases rose to 74 including 57 Indians and 17 foreigners. Government confirmed that there was no community transmission. Only local transmission was reported. On 24th March, 2020, the Government of India ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days. After one month, India reported to have 23,113 positive cases and 727 deaths due to Corona virus (The Times of India, 24/04/2020). India recorded 85,786 Corona cases till 15th May, 2020 (The Times of India, 16/05/2020). The spread of Corona virus thus continued creating a number of socio-economic problems in India. Let us take a look at the changing socio-cultural life of people across India. The study is based on the news reports published mainly in The Times of India and Ei Samay, Kolkata edition during last two months (12th March to 16th May, 2020) and some online news published on the Hindus and The Economic Times.

Work from home culture
Lock down for months have developed a new work culture while working from home. People have to follow the etiquette during ongoing calls from office. They have to dress properly during meeting. There is certain positive impact of working from home, viz. 1. no office space required, 2. opportunity to spend more time with family resulting in greater family bonding, 3. people can manage their time in a better way and 4. one can spend more time reading books or doing creative works (The Times of India, 31/03/2020). The role of men and women has changed. Due to unavailability of the maid servants both husband and wife are sharing their household responsibilities. Several reports as well as photos and videos at social media showing that the men are compelled to participate in different household activities like dusting, cleaning, washing etc. which were traditionally a feminine job. Study suggested that Indian men spend an average of 52 minutes a day on household work, compared to nearly six hours by women. The dichotomy between work from home and work at home is taking attention for the middle class Indian society (Gopalakrishnan, A, The Times of India, 05/04/2020). Another report by Chakraborty, A. dated 26/04/2020 stated that professionals juggle between work from home and work for home. For example, gynecologist Queene Aditya is managing patients as well as online classes for her child and taking care of her parents as the care givers are not attending. The Economic Times3 on 30/04/2020 reported that Indian IT industry made employees “Work from Home” (WFH) as per government’s mandate during the lockdown. As a result, about 90% of the employees worked from home with 65% of them from homes in metros and rest 35% from homes in small towns.

Present situation is a culture shock for the men who are not habituated in household chores. At the same time it is a culture shock for the aged people who are not likely to watch their son in kitchen or else doing household works. While for the working women this is an opportunity to create a platform for involving men at household work and prove how difficult it is to prioritize both household work and job at the same time. Work from home culture will certainly change the outlook of the people.

During the mid week of March the schools, colleges and universities were declared to remain shut till 31st March in Karnataka and Delhi. Primarily it was thought that the examinations could be continued with precautionary measures like proper sanitization of the schools, separate rooms for students having cough and cold etc. Some Kolkata based schools started awareness campaign regarding Covid 19 during second week of March (The Times of India, 13/03/2020). In West Bengal the period of shut down extend till 15th April, 2020 (TOI, 17/03/2020). With this announcement schools started planning online classes for class X and XII. All board exams and semester exams rescheduled. On 2nd April West Bengal government deferred the decision of detention at class V to VIII (The Times of India, 03/04/2020) i.e. all the students could be promoted to the next class without evaluation. On 30th April, 2020 UGC announced that evaluation of semester exam could be done either on the basis of 100% internal examination or on the basis of 50% internal and 50% previous semester result. MPhil and PhD students got 6 months extension from UGC. During mid April online classes started in almost all private schools. But the problem was with the practical classes, which was decided to be conducted post lockdown. Even the college and universities have been advised to make their 2020-21 admission process completely online (The Times of India, 13/04/2020). During 50 days of lock down (till 14th May, 2020) the online classes became an institution. School students were bound to wear uniforms during class and answerable to the Principal if they could not do so. Online interactions with the teachers in a disciplined way become a norm. Even after that the dilemmas regarding tentative date of reopening of schools, colleges and rescheduling of exams continued. There were also some problems. Students became loaded with assignments and projects which were supposed to be done by the parents. The problem of internet speed and the security issues related to zoom app became headache of the parents. Now the question is whether online class could be taken uniformly in all classes of students. The students from urban areas probably have access to internet facility and they could afford online classes regularly, but what about the students of rural areas? The schools and colleges in rural areas could not provide uniform education online to all the students. Even the attendance of the college students online was not 100%. The reasons were non availability of internet connection, inability to recharge mobile phone and off course lack of communication between teachers and students. But to live with Corona new method of teaching has to be developed. Students have to be well equipped with the facilities before beginning of new session.

Social and cultural issues
The thing that comes into our mind regarding social problem is social distancing. It is better to call physical distancing during lock down as people to some extent became social online. India is experiencing a boom of new culture online to socialize whether playing board games, attending festivals, celebrating birthdays etc. Since people could not meet each other, they started streaming online addas (chatting) and socializing. But there were problems too.

1. A new culture of marriage is emerging during lockdown. Marriage events cancelled or held virtually. On 5th April a marriage ceremony took place over video uniting two individuals from Mumbai and Delhi (The Times of India, 06/04/2020). The family members attended marriage over video conferencing. The news also focused on the police as baratis in marriage wherein the cops helped the couple to reach home in their car (The Times of India, 26/04/2020). Due to lack of communication, the bridegroom was found to reach bride’s house at Bagda, 30 km away from home in a cycle (Ei Samay, 06/05/2020). While such news is contributing to a new trend of marriage during lockdown, the other side is divorce.

Forced proximity during lockdown is breeding contempt of marriages. Matrimonial lawyers are getting call to end their fraying marriages. Domestic violence has increased during this lockdown due to forced confrontation leading to separation. Stress, anxiety and economic insecurity are also contributing to breaking of marriages in India (Nitasha Natu, N. and Ganeshan Ram, S., The Times of India, 10/04/1020).

2. Domestic violence: Reports suggested increasing domestic violence during lock down in India. A woman from Bolpur (Birbhum) with her child started walking through the rail track to reach her parental house after being forced by the domestic violence at her the in-laws’ house (Ei Samay, 28/4/2020). A woman with her child was found to attempt suicide by jumping at the Ganges in Kolkata due to domestic violence at in-laws’ house. She was rescued by the police (Ei Samay, 10/05/2020). According to reports on UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) it’s assumed that there’s been a 20% rise in domestic violence during the three month lockdown in all 193 UN member states alone. Factors like financial crunch, anxiety due to uncertainty, isolation from husband due to lockdown are all contributing to domestic violence. Volunteers received calls from both married and unmarried women across the country at the given government helpline numbers with complains of domestic violence. Women are emotionally, sexually, physically and financially abused (The Times of India, 10/05/2020).

3. Social ostracism: Social distancing is leading to social ostracism, specially in case of burying or cremating dead body. Due to fear of Corona virus the police and Covid fighters faced protest during disposal of dead bodies.

People from abroad faced racial attack for the fear of spreading Corona virus. Hill people have also faced social ostracism for their look. Xenophobia is the newly developed symptoms among people living in uncertainties regarding the virus.

People of third gender are also victims of social ostracism. Their families are not happy as they have to spend more time at home due to lockdown. They have also faced problem while taking relief materials. They had to stand last in the queue (Ei Samay, 11/05/2020).
Due to the fear of infection, the tenants are forced to stay out of the house. Even a new mother with 3 day old child was not allowed to enter the rented house at Uluberia after returning from hospital (Ei Samay, 29/04/2020). An affected woman could not enter the house of her son after being cured from Corona infection at Bali (Ei Samay, 13/05/2020).

A deaf-mute man aged 49 years was left alone by his family after being tested positive at Raipur. The AIIMS staff took care of him (The Times of India, 02/04/2020).

Such incidences of social exclusion are many and probably will increase day by day.

4. Religion: All religious festivals and regular rituals at temples, mosque or church have been canceled. For the first time in history Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams decided to cancel some daily and weekly rituals and restrict congregation of pilgrims for religious events at the Lord Balaji temple (Raghavan, S, The Times of India, 15/03/20). The famous Ganga aarti of Varanasi and Haridwar, which was a prime attraction for the tourists and pilgrims shut since 18th March, 2020 to avoid overcrowding. Vaishno Devi shrine also shut to the tourists due to increasing Corona cases (The Times of India, 19/03/2020). The home ministry cautioned all states and Union territories to restrict religious gathering in the festivals like Easter, Baisakhi, Bihu, Poila Baisakh, Vishu etc. (10/4/2020, The Times of India).

Religious gathering became a concern for the ministry after the great Tablighi Jamaat religious congregation at Delhi's Nizamuddin area during 13-15 March causing mass contamination in Delhi and other states of India. The Hindu on 18th April reported after the Ministry of Health announced around 4291 positive cases in 23 states out of 14378 cases in the country till date was the result of this religious congregation. During lock down people of India realised that religion needs to be in harmony with science. Religion may be practiced at home and spirituality could be developed even at lockdown phase.

Psycho-social stress
News reports suggested that lock down has affected the mental health of people living in cities causing fear, hysteria and depression. Mysophobia i.e. the fear of the virus became rampant. On 11th April Jaiswal, A. in The Times of India reported that the psychologists are getting calls mostly from frontline workers like doctors, nurses and police personnel as they are suffering from anxieties resulting from the fear of being infected. Chetan Bhagat on the same date reported that the uncertainty created by the novelty of the virus, the universality of it and the high levels of data connectivity is creating anxiety. Over exposure to information regarding Covid 19 and often rumors on social networking sites is causing distress among population. The psychiatrists have been flooded with frantic calls from people suffering from panic attack. Central government started toll free helpline to deal with psycho-social stress of the people in the wake of Covid 19 crisis. Most of the calls received by the doctors are coming from people in the age group 21 to 30 years (Jha, D.N. The Times of India, 13/4/2020,). The children are also facing psychological problems as they are unable to attend school. They cannot play with their friends. Monotonous routine making them tired. The lockdown has created stress, boredom and loneliness.

The psycho-social stress has also resulted in suicide. A number of people have committed suicide due to the fear of Corona virus. Probably the first suicide case was reported from Delhi on 19th March in The Times of India. A 23 year old man jumped from Safdarjung hospital where he was under observation. On 1st April a 35 year old man returning from Kerala jumped of the train. He was suspected to be positive by his neighbours (The Times of India, 02/04/2020,). Later on a 30 year old man committed suicide after being tested Covid positive (The Times of India, 12/04/2020). Another suicide case was reported on 30th April, 2020. The reason was delay in getting test report. Incidence of suicide due to economic crisis during lockdown was also found. A case was reported from Alipurduar where man committed suicide after killing wife and son due to economic problem resulting from lockdown (Ei Samay, 13/05/2020). People committing suicide for distress are mostly men. Studies suggested that men are more likely to get infected than females. One reason is behavioural risk factor like smoking and other reason is taking the virus lightly (The Times of India, 09/04/2020). Another study suggested that men have high level of a key enzyme (ACE2) causing infection (The Times of India, 12/05/20). Suicide is the extreme form of expression for a Covid patient or suspected patient. It is also result of social exclusion due to infection. The people under quarantine and the affected people need more care and concern from the care givers.

Lockdown over 50 days is offering new challenges towards life. The old eastern tradition of doing namaste instead of shaking hands or staying away from the unknown is adopted by the western culture. People are depending on online entertainment. Physical and social distancing has changed the outlook of the people around world. Although economic crisis and growing health issues are highly terrifying, but social issues could not be ignored. Probably Indian society will develop new culture to live with Corona in coming days.

1. WHO, on 05/05/20)
2. The Hindu, 12/03/2020,
3. The Economic Times, 30/04/2020,

Dr. Suchismita Sen Chowdhury, Assistant Professor in Anthropology, Mrinalini Datta Mahavidyapith (WBSU)

Back to Home Page

May 19, 2020

Dr. Suchismita Sen Chowdhury

Your Comment if any