“You are coronavirus” Students from Northeast India face bigotry
Racism in the times of Covid-19
Every year, thousands of young people from the Northeast migrate mainland Indian cities in search of jobs and education. But most aren’t treated well: they’re called ‘chinkis’ – a racist slur criminalized by the constitution of India – and face racism at the hands of their batch-mates, landlords, employers etc because of their looks. Recently, with the outbreak of the coronavirus, this racism has taken a huge leap.
The virus, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December, is called by some as “Chinese virus” – the US President Donald Trump being one of the first to name it so. As the panic spreads across India, reports of North-eastern people being called coronaviruses have emerged. Recently, a video went viral in which a woman can be seen covering her mouth at the Reliance mall in Pune when she saw a woman from Mizoram. The woman started to shout when she was confronted for her racist act.
The minute we got inside the metro, someone frowned upon us and said these Chinese people are so shameless, they walk around spreading coronavirus everywhere
The Pune Mirror later quoted the woman who was harassed as saying, “I have lived and worked here for ten years. Just recently, two instances of intolerance have left me sad and insecure. The woman at the mall kept rudely gesturing like I am infected and said ‘baap re’. When I asked her what’s wrong, she screamed so loud that the mall staff had to intervene. I just left without buying anything,”
Similarly a lot of Delhi University have shared their experiences. Neha, a student from Assam, says that she gets called ‘coronavirus’ and people tell her that the virus came from China to India through the Northeast. “This is quite sad and ridiculous at the same time, but there is nothing we can do,” she said.
Reema, another student, recalls how she and her friends were called as bearers of coronavirus. “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 breasts. The minute we got inside the metro, someone frowned upon us and said these Chinese people are so shameless, they walk around spreading coronavirus everywhere.”
Noihrit Gogoi, another DU student, has always been called various names for the way he looks and for speaking Hindi in a different accent. The name-calling, he says, has gotten worse in recent times.
There has been a rise in racist attacks against people from China across the globe. Back in India, north-eastern people have always been at the receiving end of racist stereotyping. Though India is a country with people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, yet a particular idea of ‘Indian-ness’ based on North-Indian sensitivities reigns supreme resulting in the otherising of not only the north-eastern people but also the south Indians whose culture and language differ drastically from their North-Indian counterparts.
Aamir Altaf is a student of political science at Aligarh Muslim university and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Views expressed are author’s own and do not reflect the stand or policy of Oracle Opinions.