Call it ‘physical distancing’, not ‘social distancing’: Petition in SC

The petition states that use of social distancing tends to promote untouchability

CasteImage Courtesy:health.economictimes

A letter petition in the apex court seeks directions for discontinuing the use of the term “Social distancing” and use the term “physical distancing” instead, owing to the stigma related to the former.

This petition has been filed by an advocate practicing in Hyderabad Dr. B. Karthik Navayan who contends that any of the terms like “physical distancing” or “individual distancing” or “safe distancing” or “disease distancing” may be used instead of “social distancing” by the Union as well as all state governments. He says in his petition that the same should be done in the interest of the country, society as well as to uphold the spirit of the Constitution of India.

He further contends that the usage of the term could lead to furthering the discriminatory caste based social practices like untouchability and also caste prejudices. The advocate cites an incident whereby a Telugu cine lyricist made a video asking his community to take pride in their discriminatory practices against the Scheduled castes as the same are being used to combat coronavirus. He further pointed out that even the World health Organization (WHO) has started using the term “physical distancing” and the Indian government should also follow suit.

He further cites the definition of Social distancing in the advisory issued by the Department of Health and Family Welfare which is to stay at least 6 feet from other people, no gathering in groups and to stay out of crowded places. He says this is akin to physical distancing and now social distancing, as the latter is just a term resembling caste based untouchability. The letter petition hence asks the apex court to issue a direction to the Centre as well as state government to refrain rom using the term social distancing in its official documents including public advisories and instead use “physical distancing”.

The practice of untouchability is prohibited under the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 as well as Article 17 of the Indian Constitution. The petitioner in this case has however, failed to cite adequate number of incidents to prove that the usage of the term “social distancing” has in fact manifested the practice of untouchability against certain castes hence, it would be difficult for the court to consider giving such directions.


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