On 22nd March, on the day of Janata curfew called by PM Narendra Modi to curb the coronavirus pandemic, when a 25 years old Northeastern woman stepped out of her house in North Delhi's Vijaynagar to get some groceries along with her two friends faced racist attack and had to experience a horrible incident. A man, on white scooty probably chewing paan spat on her when she was on her way to the market and called her ‘Corona’ before fleeing the spot.
As per media reports, the victim while recalling the traumatic incident said, “Hewhizzed past me, and spat the paan on my face and shouted “corona”, and left. It was quite a deliberate attack and I was too shocked to react.” An M Phil student of the Department of English, from Delhi University, had been living in Delhi for over seven years and had never experienced anything like this before, though racial attack on people of Northeast in Delhi is not rare. Delhi police had registered a case and arrested the accused in this matter.
Unfortunately, racial attacks related to corona on Northeast Indians didn’t stop with this single incident. A series ofsuch attack were reported in various parts of the country where people of Northeast India were called, ‘corona virus’ and were harassed, abused and traumatized. Though attack on Northeastern due to their looks is not new in Indian cities, such hate crimes multiplied within short span of time amid the corona pandemic. The Northeast Support Centre and Helpline, which was established in 2007 to assist people from northeastern Indian states, has been inundated with distress calls from across the country during the lockdown period. I get five to six phone calls about racial abuse almost every day, Alana Golmei, who manages the helpline, told to media.
It is worth mentioning here that few days later, after the Delhi incident of March 22, a similar incident took place in Mumbai, where a girl from Northeast faced racial discrimination and was traumatized. She too was spat on allegedly by a biker in Kalina Market area in Mumbai. The National Commission for Women had taken suo motu cognisance of the incident.
A report released on March 26, by Right and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) actually confirms what Northeast Support Centre and Helpline had experienced. It 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 who are 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. Suhas Chakma, director or RRAG told to media that those incidents were just the tip of the iceberg as India’s Mongoloid looking people had been facing discrimination on a daily basis and the same do not make news. Chakma stated, “India has imposed countrywide lock-down from 25.03.2020 to contain the deadly virus, which 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”.
What Chakma called Sinophobia is so strong among some people that nine Naga youths, just because of their physical features, were forced to undergo 24-hours quarantine in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on March 20 despite showing no symptoms. Though these youths working in an insurance company's call centre had no physical symptoms of the disease, no foreign travel history or no apparent contact with any laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient, still they had to spend the night in a government quarantine facility meant for suspected coronavirus infected persons allegedly because of their Mongoloid looks.
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