Use Phrase “Physical Distancing” instead of “Social Distancing: Petition in SC

The petitioner states that this could lead to "furthering the existing discriminatory caste-based social practices" such as practices of untouchability

Social distancing

A letter petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking directions for discontinuance in usage of the phrase “Social Distancing” to all State Government, owing to the stigma associated with the phrase.

The plea has initiated in the form of a letter PIL, has been filed by Dr. B. Karthik Navayan, an Advocate practicing in Hyderabad and contends that that “Social Distancing” must be replaced by “Physical Distancing” or “Individual Distancing” or “Safe Distancing” or “Disease Distancing” of effectuating guidelines to curb the Coronavirus pandemic.

“….direct them to stop using the word “Social Distancing” and start using “Physical Distancing” or “Individual Distancing” or “Safe Distancing” or  “Disease Distancing” or any other appropriate word that was used to prevent the similar pandemics that happened earlier in the world, for the better interest of our country, society and to upheld the spirit of the constitution of India” – Letter petition states.

Justifying that the phrase is being used indiscriminately by putting on record various advisories issued at the behest of Government authorities, petitioner avers that this could lead to “furthering the existing discriminatory caste-based social practices” such as practices of untouchability and shall “lead to caste prejudices against Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes”.

The petitioner depicts instances where one such incident by a Telugu artist created a furore for promoting untouchability. He states,

“…one of the Telugu cine lyrist who is a non – scheduled caste has made a video of the poem he wrote and in that 1.16 minutes video he asked his non- scheduled community to take pride in being non-scheduled caste and their practices, which are discriminatory towards SC STs, and asked the non- scheduled castes to live proudly as the entire world is accepting their practices to save people from Coronavirus. The said video has created outrage in the Telugu states and one of the scheduled caste organisations.

Further, petitioner urges that since the WHO has also begun using the phrase “physical distancing”, India must take up the cause immediately and refrain from disseminating the use of “Social Distancing”.

Apropos this, the plea emphasises that various experts have strongly condemned the usage of this phrase with the objective of highlighting how its usage “will be shored up as new justifications for caste, untouchability, and supremacism” and that doing away with replaceable, more suitable terms is need of the hour.

“That the definition of Social Distancing Advisory by MOHFW (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare), is to 1) Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms‟ length) from other people, 2) Do not gather in groups, 3) Stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings. That means, what is required to prevent the spread of Covid19 – Corona Virus is that, it is “Physical Distancing” and not “Social Distancing” which resembles like the age old practice of caste based untouchability. There requires a “Social solidarity” and “Physical Distance” instead of “Social Distance”- The petition reads.


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April 2024


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