ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Corona in the City of Mosquitoes

Exploring Local in the Time of Global

When there are public health threats at the local and global levels, how do researchers decide what to prioritise?


Before the advent of COVID-19, it was dengue, a mosquito-borne viral infection, which used to be the centre of public and political attention in the national capital. With favourable conditions for mosquito breeding, the months from March to November are termed “dengue season” in Delhi—a permanent fixture in the calendar of public health officials, ad hoc sanitation workers, and its residents. Despite their efforts, Delhi has faced recurrent dengue outbreaks since 1996 with the most recent one in 2015. Dengue has always captured the collective affective rhythms of Delhi, the anxieties and panic of its citizens, politicians, and officials; even mine, as I chose to work on the dreaded infection for my doctoral research. That said, the period of my ethnographic fieldwork has witnessed several global outbreaks of emergent virus and their aftermath. India faced the H1N1 outbreak in 2015, Zika cases starting in 2018, and Nipah cases snowballed into an outbreak in Kerala the same year. However, my informants—epidemiologists, doctors, front-line health workers, and public health administrators—remained resolutely focused on local public health priorities such as mosquito-borne diseases. As if echoing this, my focus, too, never shifted from dengue.

Then, towards the end of my fieldwork in 2019–20, a novel virus, SARS-CoV-2, began spreading across the world. Once the sudden lockdown was imposed in India, the very same front-line workers who were responsible for spraying insecticide to kill mosquitoes would now send me pictures from the field spraying disinfectant in public spaces. Social distancing norms prohibited them from entering people’s domestic spaces to check for mosquito breeding. They were now announcing these social-distancing measures instead. My field became inaccessible. Both my informants and I were facing an unprecedented situation—to account for something in our work that neither of us was prepared for.

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Updated On : 12th Dec, 2021
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