Xenophobia: Targeting People from the Northeast in Times of Coronavirus 

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People from the Northeastern states holding a protest march against discrimination. Image:Twitter

The coronavirus pandemic has not only brought about a total standstill in the economy and compelled people to stay locked up indoors but it has also brought about heightened xenophobia across the world. 

One of the prime factors responsible for the spread of xenophobic tendencies in this period is often the way in which countries and especially the US have referred to the virus. 

American President Donald Trump has constantly been calling the coronavirus, the ‘Chinese Virus. 

As a result of the regional connotations being attached to the virus, many people from the Northeastern states are experiencing discrimination, ridicule, stigmatisation and even social boycott in India. Many people from Northeast India are being abused, attacked and targeted. 

In a recent incident of xenophobia, a woman from Manipur was allegedly spat on by a man walking in Delhi, who alleged that people like her were responsible for the spread of the coronavirus. Even well known singer, Meiyang Chang alleged that a couple of days ago, two men on a speeding bike called him ‘corona’ in Mumbai.

It is sad that in such diffract times, instead of fighting as a collective with shared sensitivity and solidarity- we are engaging in xenophobia. How should we discourage and put an end to our own xenophobic tendencies against people from India’s northeast?

Sino-Phobia has been present in the Indian consciousness for decades and people from the northeastern states have been exposed to a wide range of discriminatory practices such as a regular mocking of their facial attributes, food patterns or sartorial and cultural preferences. Sino-phobia can be experienced afresh in these times of the coronavirus pandemic as reports of Indian citizens from the northeast being discriminated against keep coming up. 

On 22nd March, two men from Mizoram living in Bangalore were turned down by a shopkeeper who was selling gas cylinders, because to him they appeared ‘Chinese’. 

Recently, in Ahmedabad nine young people from Nagaland who used to work with a medical firm were randomly evacuated from their office and forced to take COVID-19 tests. 

Even when their reports proved negative, they were kept in the isolation room of a hospital for a whole day.Since many people from the northeast have South East Asian features, there is an assumption that they are all from China. 

It is important for us to work towards education and awareness for communicating that the northeast is an integral part of India and though the people there have different facial features, they are as Indian as people in Haryana or Uttar Pradesh. 

Asking people from the northeast to vacate their homes or compelling them for forceful quarantine, is against the very ethos of an egalitarian citizenship. While an advisory had been issued by the ministry of home affairs, asking states to take strict action against racism. 

The ministry must make sure that it follows up on its orders and investigates instances of discrimination and racism against people of the northeast. Whether it is done deliberately or out of ignorance, it must immediately be stopped.

We as a nation should not tolerate anything of this sort, let alone ignore and take it for granted. While the government has a punitive mechanism against it, there is a need to reinforce it strongly and effectively. 

Social awareness and heightened awakening of cultural diversity may also help to educate the wider citizenry. 

After all the coronavirus will eventually disappear with time but what about the virus of racism and discrimination that has plagued our consciousness?  

Let us collectively battle racism, abuse and attacks on people from the northeast.

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