As if the coronavirus induced quarantine wasn’t bad enough, rural India and social media is giving it a push in another direction. The word ‘quarantine’ is now being twisted into कोरोना डाईन. Due to its phonetic similarity, people in India have largely started referring to the infection as ‘dayan’ (witch). In rural India, the word ‘dayan’ is colloquially used to refer to a problem, and now so is the Covid-19 infection being called so.
Popular news channels have used the term on their prime time shows have used the term in their headlines.
This is hugely problematic because the term ‘dayan’ or ‘chudail’ (witch) is an inherently sexist term. Women are targets of hostility and branded as witches. They are demonized, ostracized, lynched and even killed due to the superstition and illiteracy and accused of practicing ‘black magic’ and harming men and children. Usually they are either childless but wealthy single women or widows, or have dared to go against established social norms in some way. The 'witch hunt' therefore, is patriarchy's way of punishing a woman for exercising her agency.
While witch hunting is generally viewed to be a thing of the past, it is very much in practice today, especially in rural India. Every other day, women in villages are either beaten up brutally or killed for being a ‘witch’ and allegedly indulging in sorcery.
Not only this, even in urban India, women are being called witches by men, especially for having a dissenting voice.
मुझे पता था ये डायन भी शामिल है कोरोना फैलाओ साजिश में । ये इतना खामोश थी कि मुझे शक था कि ये तभी कुछ बोलेगी जब इसके इशारे पर हालात बिगाड़ दिए जाएंगे । https://t.co/Fdi8ueWTQi
— #Jaibind Singh 2.0 🇮🇳 (@JBSingh75) April 2, 2020
कोरोना से मरो हजारों लोग तुझे कफन देने के लिए तैयार बैठें हैं डाईन
— Shatrughan Jaiswal (@shatrughanJaisw) April 1, 2020
Attaching the term ‘witch’ to a disease, is only going to make it a sexist term. According to the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) for naming diseases, the names should be gender neutral and not involve cultural, population or occupational references.
If this term comes into popular use, it may also lead to the demonisation and killing of women who may be afflicted with the disease, especially in the rural parts of India. This is going to be crime against women who if ostracized, will have nowhere to go and fend for themselves. The scales with regards of justice for women are already not tipped in their favour. In this age, while feminism is taking shape and people are asked to work with a scientific temper, reigniting terms like ‘dayan’ and ‘chudail’ which signify taboo practices, is an example of utter regression.
To say the least, attaching the term ‘witch’ to a disease is going to give it a sexist boost. Already women in India, mostly from the North East are being called ‘corona’, accused of being Chinese because of their ethnicity and features, and being held responsible for spreading the virus. If this racism is combined with sexism, women in India may not be able to escape this vilification.