India, with a population of 1,210,193,422 as accounted by the 1st March 2011 population census, is a colourful canvas portraying a unique assimilation of ethnic groups displaying varied cultures and religions. In fact this uniqueness in ethnicity of the country is a factor that makes it different from other nations. However the vastness of India’s nationalism, accounting to a plethora of cultural extravaganza, religions etc., is the reason that the country is seen more as a seat for a major world civilization than a mere nation state.
It’s a fact that cultural diversification from state to state is immense. We know that every year thousand of young people from North East migrate to New Delhi and other cities for higher education and jobs. The seven states known as “seven sisters” are connected to India with a sliver of land that spans over the northern top of Bangladesh and are plagued with chronic under development and separatist conflicts.
It’s common for the people from northeast to be called ‘chinkies’, a word so common that may have become immune to it, but derogatory enough for the government to punish its use with five year jail term. Harassment from landlords, employers, and assaults on the streets are commonplace. All of this leads to those people feeling alienated and left out. Indians have deep rooted racism against them and after the outbreak of the corona virus the racist comments have just worsened.
Recently Alana Golme, a member of monitoring committee wrote a letter to the ministry of Home Affairs (NE division). In her letter, she wrote how the north eastern people are now being called “corona virus” and facing blatant racism in the wake of new pandemic rocking the world. To call people who are already being attacked by the name is cruel. It was in 2014 when the cases of racism were much worse, people were mugged, harassed and even killed due to their ethnic identity around the country.
Alana pointed out how long they have been at the receiving end of all kinds of racism by all sorts of people. However most of the cases of racism reported are from Delhi. The national capital, a major metro city, and home to a number of well-known educational institution is the place that treats people in such a cruel manner. India basically has a racism problem that goes unnoticed owing to casteisim, and it is this inherent racism that is building a wall and creating barriers between our own people.
A student of Delhi University Noihrit Gogoi has encountered various types of name calling everyday for looking a certain way, hailing from the northeast and for speaking Hindi with a different accent. Coronavirus was largely seen as a Chinese disease that started in China and pretty much did the round among Chinese people before making to every other country. Since most of the students from the northeast have Mongoloid features, resembling the average Chinese national, they have to bear the brunt of now being called coronavirus.
A lot of other students from the colleges of Delhi University echo similar problems. Neha, another student from Assam said she is being called coronavirus and people told her that the virus spread to India from China via northeast. She says, “this is quite sad and ridiculous at the same time, but sadly there is nothing we can do.
Reema, another student recalls how she and her friends were called “bearers of coronavirus”. She said this was probably one of the worst days of my life. “My friends and I were walking to a metro station, when three men threw a giant water balloon at my friend’s bosom”. She says she was completely drenched. “The minute we got inside the metro someone frowned upon us and said these Chinese people are so shameless that they walk around spreading coronavirus everywhere”.
Young techie Hmingtei chhangta, who originates from Manipur narrated that it was just a week back when she visited a grocery store that a few men teared her saying “coronavirus aa gaya” ( coronavirus has come).
Namguiling Panmel hails from the same state Manipur said while returning from a friend’s place “I took off my helmet and hung it on the two wheeler I was riding. A traffic cop stopped me and asked for my documents and licence, all of which I provided. I paid the fine for not wearing the helmet, but commented that he had let all other helmetless riders off except me. His response left me shocked; “woh log tou local log admi hai, tum toh china sai hona, kisko pata tere pass coronavirus hai ki nahi” (They are locals. You are from China. Who knows if you are infected or not.)
It is indeed disheartening to hear such stories knowing that there are still people roaming around who think of this as funny. North East has always been isolated and the people, termed aliens. It’s time to change that attitude.
In the midst of an epidemic as this, it is important for all of us to come together and help each other out instead of targeting people. There have been many cases of racism that came to fore after the cases of corona virus. In such a tragedy, a lot of the countries have had a rise in anti-Chinese racism attacks.
The world is grappling with a terrible health emergency and it is natural to feel the fear. But that doesn’t give us the leeway to attack other people because of their ethnicity. For people from the northeast, it has been a repeated attack on their existence and frankly, it is too much at this point.
Maybe stories like these will lead people to think before they speak or act. Here’s hoping we get a solution for corona as well as the racism.
The writer is a student of political science at Aligarh Muslim University