It has been a month since Sunitha's* husband, Venkatesh*, recovered from the novel coronavirus and returned home after being discharged from the Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad. However, Sunitha says that her family is still being treated with hostility by her neighbours.
"Our neighbours continue to treat us as though we are enemies, like we are the reason for the origin of the coronavirus. How are we responsible for what happened to us? Even we are victims," she says.
Venkatesh had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 on April 20, and was found to have contracted the virus at Suryapet market from a person who had returned to Hyderabad from the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi. He was discharged from Gandhi Hospital after 14 days of treatment, when he tested negative. Sunitha says that she and her family have been strictly adhering to the 28-day home quarantine after Venkatesh was discharged, and are remaining indoors. However, in their neighboursâ€™ eyes, they continue to be the ones at fault.
"It's taking a toll on our mental health,â€ť says Sunitha. â€śDespite wearing masks, they will start pinching their nose, and look weirdly at our home whenever they are passing by. None of our neighbours are talking to us or asking how we are even after so many days.â€ť
Like Sunitha, there are many in Telangana who have overcome COVID-19, but not the stigma that they continue to face in their communities.
Chided at the grocery store
In one case, three people out of a family of four tested positive for COVID-19 and were admitted to the Gandhi Hospital. After the treatment, all of them tested negative and have been home quarantined in Trimulgherry in Secunderabad.
"As we are all home quarantined and stamped by ASHA workers, we are staying indoors and sending our 13-year-old daughter to buy essentials like milk to the nearby grocery store, as we don't have any other option. She was not stamped by the workers and did not contract the virus," says Begum*, a member of the family.
"But whenever she goes out, she is being chided at the grocery shop and being questioned about why she is coming out at all. The little girl returns with a sad face. How are we supposed to survive without essentials?" Begum questions.
Begum adds that while some ration was provided by the state government when they were discharged, her family of four could only survive for so long with the amount given.
"It was easier to fight coronavirus than it is to survive now," says Begum.
Home quarantined with no help from govt
Several people who were performing emergency duties were also home quarantined owing to their inter-state travel. This mostly includes cab drivers.
All these people upon their return to their homes were stamped and asked to stay under home quarantine for 28 days. These people also allege being stigmatised by their neighbours.
Kamalapati*,a cab driver from Jangaon district has been home quarantined after being on emergency duty of dropping a pregnant woman at Amalapuram, Andhra Pradesh from Telangana. Though temperature checks revealed nothing abnormal, and the pregnant woman and her family are safe, the driver was still stamped and home quarantined as a precautionary measure. This was something he was not prepared for.
"I have finished ten days of quarantine period and it's really difficult with me being stuck at home. My wife, who is breastfeeding our infant, is compelled to go outside to get groceries from 2-3 kilometers away, which she walks. The neighbours question her and ask why she is coming out of the home, as some of them assume our whole family has got coronavirus,â€ť says Kamalapati.
"We should also be provided with the groceries. How do they expect us to survive if they home quarantine us with no arrangements for essentials? If this is the case, the DGP office should have mentioned on the emergency pass that whoever utilises this pass and goes to the border should be home quarantined. Unknowingly, I have got stuck in this mess," he rues.
Kamalapati also laments that his family was struggling with no income. "This discrimination is making our life more difficult," he says.