COVID-19 Op-ed

The Indonesian Tragedy:
The Politics of Stigma and Marginalization of COVID-19

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Arif R. HaryonoStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

Indonesia is well-known for its hospitality and harmonious
community despite its multi-cultural and ethnic background. The nation’s
motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or Unity in Diversity has acted as the backbone
of social cohesion to the diverse communities. However, the recent surge of
COVID-19 has hit the nation’s motto and might torment the country’s harmony.
The effect is so massive to the extent it has caused negative stigmatization
and marginalization against those related to COVID-19: the patients, the
medical officers, and their families.What makes this negative stigma and
marginalization emerge in the country known for its gotong royong (mutual
help) principle?From the writer’s perspective, the phenomenon of stigma and
marginalization finds its trajectory as ignorance and fear grow hand in hand
with the spread of COVID-19. As the whole of Indonesia’s media and channels
of information is crowded with COVID-19 — not to mention the circulation of
COVID-19 misinformation — and its effects on the infected patients, the
people started to build psychological and social barriers as defensive
mechanisms to protect them and their families. This barrier brings about
prejudice against the infected people and those closely related to the virus.
Sylvie Brand (Ren, Gao, Chen, 2020, p. 653) from the World Health
Organization has warned that “fear and stigma go together and when people
fear, they tend to stigmatize some groups “. Thus Brand further
emphasizes the need for states to protect the people from the Coronavirus and
its social impacts.Indonesian media report several cases of stigmatization
and marginalization towards certain groups of communities. In several areas
in Indonesia, the dead bodies of medical officers were rejected from being
buried in local cemeteries, as the corpses were stigmatized as a primary
source of COVID-19’s infection (Azanella, 2020). The community is also
shunning some members of families of medical officers who treat COVID-19
patients. This social exclusion includes the children of medical officers who
are not allowed to play with their friends (Astuti and Syaefullah, 2020). If
this condition continues, the child’s development might be disrupted by
psychological disorders such as stress or trauma. Two particular cases of
religious congregations being disbanded by the communities took place in
several regions of Indonesia (Rafie, 2020; Lova, 2020), as the people were
accusing them of bringing the infection to their area. In the presence of
unfortunate incidents, the stigmatization towards certain groups might lead
towards a series of past horizontal conflicts if none of the preemptive actions
is taken.To avoid further incidents in other areas, the writer believes that
it is important to understand the basic concepts of stigma and
marginalization. In the 17th century, stigma was considered as “branding
or marking individuals, especially criminals. 
who were no longer ‘full’ members of society and whose presence should
be suspected” (Dovi, 2001, p.
). Stigmatization can also be manifest through physical
appearance (Brouwer, 1998,
p. 117
) such as labeling, stereotyping, and devaluating by and of
the stakeholders (Mirabito, 2016, p. 171
). In short, stigmatization is exclusion by
discrediting an individual (or group of individuals) from the community.
Cases of stigmatization also showed patterns of excluding individuals or
groups who are perceived as distinct from the community.As we look deeply
into the global historical archives, cases of stigma also appeared during
pandemic cases. The syphilis pandemic that occurred in Europe in the
fifteenth century was named differently in many countries by labeling the
disease after their opposition counterpart, such as the Morbus Germanicus by
the people of Paris, the French pox by the English, and the Naples sickness
by the Florentines (Ren,
Gao, Chen, 2020, p. 654
). During the SARS crisis, incidents
involving racially-based action towards the Chinese-Canadians and other Asian
migrant communities had taken place in Toronto, Canada (Ali,
2008, p. 52
). Although incidents of attacking people of Chinese
descent during the coronavirus pandemic has not yet taken place in Indonesia,
many cases of racial attack and verbal abuse towards the Asian community have
been reported by the media worldwide.In conclusion, overcoming a disease
might be the responsibility of the medical workers, but managing a worldwide
pandemic and its impacts is a matter of state policy. As stigmatization and
marginalization grow from fear and ignorance, it is important for the
government to conduct massive and systematic information disbursement related
to COVID-19. For that reason, the state must collaborate with all of the
stakeholders to overcome the challenge of stigma by providing the people with
reliable and accountable information, using assertive policies to manage the
pandemic, relieving the public’s worries by providing information hotlines or
psychological treatment centers, and promoting the transparency of actions to
avoid any misinformation of the pandemic. The state must avoid the further
social implications of the COVID-19 outbreak, for it may last longer than the
pandemic itself. So sad but true.References:Ali,
S.H., 2008. Stigmatized Ethnicity, Public Health, and Globalization.
Canadian Ethnic Studies, 40(3), p.43-64. . Available at:
.Azanella, L.A., 2020. Penolakan Jenazah Pasien COVID-19, Mengapa
Bisa Terjadi?
. . Available at: <>
.Astuti, L.D.P., Syaefullah, 2020. Duka Perawat COVID-19,
Keluarganya Dijauhi Tetangga
. . Available at:
.Brouwer, D., 1998. The Precarious Visibility Politics of
Self-Stigmatization: The Case of HIV/AIDS Tattoos. Text and
Performance Quarterly,
18(2) p. 114-136 . Available at:
.Dovi, S., 2001. Evil Enemies: Stigmatizing Our Opponents or Legitimizing Our
Wars?. Peace Research 33(1) p.101-112 . Available at:
.Lova, C., 2020. Ibadah di Rumah Saat PSBB Dibubarkan Tetangga,
Polisi Bilang Itu Karena Salah Paham
. . Available at:
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Conceptualizing and Contextualizing Marketplace Stigma. Journal of
Public Policy and Marketing,
35(2), p. 170-184.  Available at: <>
.Rafie, B.T. (ed), 2020. Jadi Sorotan: Abaikan Corona, Ribuan
Muslim Asia Hadiri Tabligh Akbar di Sulsel
. .
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.Ren, S., Gao, R., Chen, Y., 2020. Fear Can Be More Harmful Than The Severe
Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 In Controlling The Corona Virus
Disease 2019 Epidemic. World Journal of Clinical Cases,
8(4), p. 652-657.  Available at:

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