In 2020, a meme, popularly known as ‘coffin dance’ stormed the internet. The meme comprising of a video group of guys in Ghana, dressed in funeral outfits, carrying a casket and dancing. It was believed that dancing with the coffin at the funeral brings joy to the soul of the deceased. The ‘Coffin dance’ group also became viral in Bangladesh when their photo was displayed on the big screen in Bashundhara city shopping mall to make people aware of COVID-19 threats.
The ‘coffin dance’ meme speaks volume about our attitude towards death in recent times. The funeral ceremony is a cultural universal which serves some core functions of the society. Funeral ceremonies are a reminder that the death rate is 100 per cent for mankind, the value of human life is unparallel and death is a shared experience, not an individualistic one. Traditionally, funeral ceremonies are ceremonial occasions to show love, respect and demonstrate support to those who are left behind.But, in recent times we see a shift in the attitude towards death. Highlighting our attitude towards death, Charles Eisenstein, an American author, says on a popular podcast show “ours is a society of death denial, from its hiding away of corpses, to its fetish for youthfulness, to its warehousing of old people in nursing homes…the assumption that public policies should seek to minimize the number of deaths is nearly beyond question, a goal to which other values like play, freedom, etc. are subordinate.”
In traditional tight knitted communities’ death has been part of public conversation and conscience. We remember our Nanu Bari and Dadu Bari having a big entrance to the house so that it would be easier to take the corpse out. The front courtyard was used to perform the mandatory bathing ritual for the corpse. However, nowadays we see the professionalization of the death industry where organizations like Anjuman Mufidul Islam prepare the body for burial rituals.
Besides, now we witness an unprecedented expenditure of resources in the hope to prolong our life by delaying inevitable death. Anti-ageing products to stem cell injections, demand for these products has created a trillion-dollar market. Once only accessible to the rich, these inventions have also managed tolure the middle class to be consumers.
These changes in the social order shifted the values of younger people of our society. Young people find themselves detached from the ritual of death and collective feeling of grief to the extent that they hardly talk about death let alone prepare for it.
One of the consequences of tabooing death as a topic of conversation is the rising suicide rate. According to WHO, close to 800,000 people died due to suicide last year. Experts in Bangladesh also rising public attention on rising numbers of suicide in our country. Young individuals are more susceptible to suicide, the core reason being not to be able to understand death as a collective experience and how it affects the ones who are left behind.
Furthermore, the attitude toward death has led the young generation to become ignorant about the COVID-19 threats. It is a fact that the older age groups are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Thereupon, more than half of the people who have died of Covid-19 in Bangladesh are over 60 years old, according to the daily virus update released by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). But it is the young people who are fueling the virus uptick. The new variants of COVID-19 are now spreading faster than the previous one, infecting young people more.Despite the threats, we see young people are apathetic in following covid measures. Restaurants, shopping malls and other public places are persistently bombarded with a high number of visitors. Loitering without the mask and without maintaining safe physical distance has become acceptable behavior all over that country. Consequently, these acts of nonconformity led the government to enforce a lockdown for the second time.
Epidemiologically, older people in Bangladesh are more likely to use health services than younger people. The lower mortality rate and morbidity rate among young people likely to be the reasons. The pattern was consistent during the first wave of COVID-19 in Bangladesh. But the recent spike of COVID-19 infection shows more younger people are getting infected and occupying hospital beds, making already vulnerable older groups more vulnerable.
All the aforementioned experiences and behaviors of young people show that how much we got removed from the life that we have evolved to have. Young people are laying on the verge of forgetting that life and death are shared experiences, not individualistic ones. The change in attitude towards death does not only have a short-termconsequence of COVID-19 spike but also it has changed a fundamental part of our being.
All things considered, let’s hope that the disruption caused by the COVID-19 could inspire young individuals to adhere to the values of collectivity so that we could tackle the coming days of COVID-19.
The writer is a Lecturer, Department of Economics and Social Sciences,
School of Humanities and Social