This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Siva Shankar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Normalising Death: Suffering And Grief Have Become Nothing More Than Numbers To Us

More from Siva Shankar

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

TW: Mention of Covid deaths

Think of a time in pre-Covid India when people were somewhat empathetic towards the news of deaths that used to appear in the media. If not empathetic, at least people were sympathetic towards them. This culture of kindness, love or sympathy towards ‘others’, with whom we share no relation except as citizens of the same nation, was an important element in maintaining cohesion among members of the society.

But this got a huge blow with the Covid crisis. Today, with the normalisation of the loss of lives every day, deaths have become just numbers. Normalisation of any unfavourable phenomenon will have a deteriorating impact on society. A typical example would be the normalisation of a patrilocal practice (of a couple settling in the husband’s home or community) after marriage. Though accepted by everyone in our society, the practice is clearly a manifestation of patriarchy and left unnoticed. Thus, normalisation of any bad phenomenon should be thrown out at the initial stage itself.

Of course, we feel bad when the number of Covid cases increase and feel better when the number of Covid-related deaths decrease. But this relaxation never equals the empathy we possessed in pre-Covid times. Though this shift is not any individual’s fault, it is important to understand this psychological shift.

Empathy, as the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings, promotes kindness among people. When you understand the suffering of the kith and kin of a person who has lost their life in an accident, you won’t drive your vehicle fast. So, in a way, empathy encourages one to be more responsible. But in the case of Covid, deaths become so large in number that the qualitative aspects of the loss of lives gets overlooked.

The recent Kumbh Mela crowd is the best example to prove this point. Apart from other reasons, there was an element of empathy attributed to the huge crowd. If people in the Kumbh Mela had understood the sufferings of a Covid-affected family, the crowd would have been much lesser despite the irresponsible governance and hyper religiosity it is surrounded by. But people had only seen Covid-related deaths in numbers.

The recent election campaigns in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal saw huge crowds surrounding the faces of popular parties. The Election Commission failed in strictly directing the parties to reduce the crowd in rallies. But why wasn’t there an all-party consensus among the political parties themselves in these election states to limit the crowd?

Firstly, it is the duty of the political party to ensure safety of its people, as every political party is competing to come to power. But in this power race, no party is ready to care for the people. Here comes the role of empathy in ensuring the safety of people. Had these political parties understood the sufferings of a Covid-affected family, an all-party consensus would have been reached before the elections. But during campaigning, people are seen in terms of the number of votes, overlooking the qualitative aspect of one’s life.

In both the above cases of a festival and election, the lack of empathy towards the affected society reduces the social cohesion within. This ultimately alienates the marginalised section of society, who are always the first victim of any crisis.

Apart from the above cases, today, every one of us views Covid death as a number, though it’s not an individual’s fault. As said above, the normalisation of deaths makes this shift in us. These huge numbers instil fear in us, but not empathy. Fear can deter us from being infected with the virus, but empathy can do more than that. To understand this, let us ask ourselves some questions regarding the effects that the pandemic will have on the post-Covid world:

Credit: Getty Images

What’s going to be the future of the large number of children who lost their parent(s) in the Covid crisis?
How will parents who lost their children due to Covid cope up with the loss?
What about the fate of school drop-outs because of Covid?
What will be the ripple effect of Covid for daily-wage earners, those in the informal sector or migrants?

There are many questions that the post-Covid India will answer over time.

In every crisis — be it floods, droughts or pandemics — the most affected people are always the ones who are already suffering the most. All socially, educationally and economically backward classes suffer a lot in every crisis. These people are always alienated from society after every crisis. The section of the population who needs the most support from the State is often left in the development process of the country. With the loss of empathy among people, this further aggravates the situation.

There were many steps that the government should take to mitigate the sufferings of the above-mentioned people in a post-Covid world. But what can we as society do? The post-Covid world needs a society that is more empathetic and kind to each other. Let us come out of the number game when it comes to Covid deaths and try to understand the suffering of the people whose lives or livelihoods have been affected due to the pandemic. It’s not that you should always think about the suffering of others, instead, try to understand for once the situation from the point of view of those affected by the crisis.

Thus, understanding how the post-Covid world will be and the importance of empathy will make a huge difference in the attitude of people. This, in turn, will lead to a more cohesive society with narrow inequality that cares for each other.

Note: This article was originally published here.

You must be to comment.

More from Siva Shankar

Similar Posts

By Poornima

By Accountability Initiative

By India Development Review (IDR)

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below