When it comes to giving threats and cursing, Indians can be quite creative. We have the ability to threaten others with everything from assault (sexual or otherwise), death, or torture to the person, their relatives, and their community in just a couple of words. But much like everything else this year, the coronavirus pandemic has changed this ‘passionate’ disposition of us Indians. You see, there is a new player in town that is deadlier than any threat you can think of — sneezing and coughing.
A recent video posted by comedian Vir Das on Twitter, shows just how scary this threat can be. The video shows Das standing at his doorstep, while an elderly neighbour accosts him for not observing social distancing. The neighbour eventually pulls his own mask down, and pretends to sneeze on Das, threatening him with infection.
The video has grabbed a lot of eyeballs. In the thread of tweets that followed, Das himself points out how easily the elderly man resorts to a threat to life. The reaction, from Das and viewers alike, was akin to being threatened with a gun or knife. The threat was serious, as in the off chance that the man was Covid-19 positive it wouldn’t be hard to argue that the act could have amounted to intent to harm a life.
Gone are the days when everyone surrounding responds to a sneeze with a collective ‘bless you’. Rogue sneezing and coughing are the new guns.
A growing threat
This is not the first time sneezing and coughing has been used as a threat since the coronavirus pandemic started. In India, the fears surrounding spitting, coughing or sneezing during the pandemic have taken a communal colour. In Bihar, the media even labeled the alleged incidents of spitting by Tablighi Jamaat members as ‘thook jihad’. There were also rumours and videos being circulated of Muslim vegetable and fruit vendors spitting on food, which were later debunked as fake news.
Such instances have not been special to India. In the US, which is seeing multiple anti-lockdown protests, coughing as a threat or an insult is becoming increasingly commonplace. In fact, in New Jersey, a man was arrested on charges of terrorism for deliberately coughing in a woman’s face and claiming he had coronavirus. The UK, too, has reported similar instances of people being coughed and sneezed on in public. These shocking instances show that the simple act of sneezing has now become equivalent to flashing a gun in someone’s face.
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Unbelievable. These people are so incredibly reckless, selfish, stupid. For God’s sake, it’s such a small ask, relative to the risk of not doing so. We’re not being asked to carry a heavy cross on our back. We’re being asked to wear a damn mask! pic.twitter.com/gr28K96Unu
— Ana Navarro-Cárdenas (@ananavarro) May 23, 2020
In India, things have been taking a slightly different turn, with instances of crowds beating up those who made the mistake of coughing or sneezing in public and not wearing a mask. Before India even went into its nationwide lockdown, a man in Maharashtra was publicly beaten by a couple in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur for not wearing a mask and sneezing while he was on a two-wheeler.
Additionally, spitting — one of our country’s favourite hobbies — is now strictly banned, with the authorities imposing heavy fines on offenders.
As the world reels under this new form of attack, it begs the question — will there soon be a law regulating coughing and sneezing in public too? Much like the debate around gun control, we may very well have politicians rallying to criminalise these natural bodily functions. Women already carry pepper spray and knives to protect themselves from harassment, will people now have to wear PPEs to protect themselves from rogue sneezing?
Until the pandemic is over, which according to experts won’t happen before the year ends, the threat to life a simple sneeze or cough hold will loom large over our heads. It may sound dramatic, but as a society, we have repeatedly proven that we are fully capable of stooping to the lowest low to express our anger and discontent.
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