SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 31 MARCH, 2020
Racism In The Time of Corona
In a report released on March 26, by RRAG (Right and Risks Analysis Group) states that in the aftermath of COVID-19 outbreak, there has been massive and unprecedented upsurge of acts of racism and racial discrimination against people from the North East settled, working and studying across the length and breadth of the country. The report cites 22 reported cases of racial discrimination or hate crimes since February 7, 2020 to March 25, 2020.
Says Suhas Chakma, director or Right and Risks Analysis Group , “These incidents are just tip of the iceberg as India’s Mongoloid looking people have been facing discrimination on daily basis and the same do not make news.”
He goes on to add: “India has imposed countrywide lock-down from 25.03.2020 to contain COVID-19 and across the world, COVID-19 has been increasingly creating "Sinophobia" with dire consequences for people who look similar to the Chinese. As the fear and prejudices associated with COVID-19 spreads across the country, India’s Mongoloid looking people are all set to face increased acts of racism and racial discrimination with virtual impunity as there is neither a law nor public rebuke from the key leaders of the government of India against these despicable crimes.”
The release draws from recent incidents of racism against people from the North East which shows the ugly face of what an ignorant population can turn into even in a near-Emergency situation when everyone’s life is on the line.
Rinzin Dorjee, 74 and his daughter Tsering Yangzom from Northeast India were not allowed to enter the complex of Shree Sainath Housing Society at Mulund (East), Mumbai on suspicion that they were from China. Dorjee has been a frequent visitor to Mumbai for his cancer treatment and been staying at the Housing Society for the last three months. However, on March 16 the security guard did not allow him and his daughter to enter the society alleging that they might be infected with the virus. The daughter claimed that the society denied them entry despite showing valid documents.
“Apart from being called “Corona”, “Chinese”, “Chinki”, India’s citizens from the north eastern states are spat on and called “coronavirus”, forcibly quarantined despite showing no COVID-19 symptoms because of their looks, denied entry into apartment blocks, forced their place of stay, threatened with eviction, made to leave restaurants to make others comfortable, and are unable to avail of public transport,” none wanting to share transport with them, etc”, Chakma said.
This discrimination is not new. A student from Arunachal Pradesh was allegedly beaten and forced to lick his landlords shoes for using excessive water, a top police official said in Bengaluru on March 10 2017.
A year earlier, in July 2016, though her social media page, Maneka Khangembam reported that when she went to the immigration desk at the Indira Gandhi International airport around 9pm, an official looked at her passport and said, “Indian toh nahi lagti ho”(you don’t look Indian). He then allegedly smirked at her and asked her how many states comprised the country, in an apparent bid to “know her Indianness”. When Khangembam told the official she hailed from Manipur, he allegedly asked her to name the states Manipur shared its border with.“I said I was really getting late and he goes like, “aircraft aapko chodke kahi nahi jaa rahi. Aaram se jawab do” (the aircraft isn’t leaving without you. You can answer at ease.)
In December the same year, a group of men in Gurgaon brutally assaulted a 29-year-old man from Manipur. Earlier that year, 19-year-old Nido Taniam succumbed to ‘serious injuries’ after being brutally beaten in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar locality. Northeastern people say they face violence and discrimination for being “immigrants”, and are regularly bullied and called names.
The pandemic provides no exception. A young nurse taking care of Covid 19 patients at a hospital in a metro city reported on her social media page about the the 14-hour duty caring for virus affected patient --where the nurses could not leave the beds. So she had stepped out to get some sweets to see her through the night when one child saw her, screamed in fright and ran away, shouting “Chinky” or something like that. “This hate has percolated down to little children. It is sad,” she wrote.
“The truth is that unless parents actively teach kids not to be racists, they will be,” said Jennifer Richeson, a Yale University social psychologist. “This is not the product of some deep-seated, evil heart that is cultivated. It comes from the environment, the air all around us.”
These acts of racism and racial discrimination have been witnessed in upscale restaurants and campuses of prestigious institutions like Kirori Mal College of Delhi University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an institution of the Government of India which prepares school syllabus for students up to 12th Standard under the Central Board of Secondary Education. The incidents have happened across India including Gujarat, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, West Bengal, Karnataka and Maharashtra, showing that prejudice and acts of racism and racial discrimination are not confined to particular areas.
When even US President Donald Trump called the disease the ‘Chinese virus’, what can we really say about some Indian people who are targeting those from the North East and calling them “Corona Virus”? Shame.