Victimising in Times of Coronavirus: Trends Towards Sustained Discrimination Against People from Northeastern States

Racism north east
Students from North-East protesting against racism, Delhi. [ Representative Image] Source - e.pao.net

We all know that like the rest of the world, India is also going through one of the worst times in decades. With a countrywide lockdown in place to control and contain the spread of the coronavirus and the rising number of COVID-19 positive cases, these are indeed challenging times.  While migrant workers and the people living on the fringes of the Indian economy face unprecedented challenges to survival in the absence of livelihood, food or medical care, the nation-state struggles to fight this pandemic without causing irreparable damage to the economy. 

The fight that we are all fighting indeed must remind us of the power of the collective and the importance of working in coordination and support of each other. One of the worst things that can happen amid this crisis, is the tendency among people to treat others with inhumane indignity, ridicule and discrimination.

 Tendencies such as the communalisation of the crisis or the tendency to blame a particular community for the miseries of the country- can only demotivate, destroy our collective strength and can weaken our positivity to struggle despite the odds. It is in this context that it becomes important for us to acknowledge that the implications of COVID-19 aren’t just reflected in the socioeconomic realm, it has also erected a mirror of our societal consciousness. 

As xenophobic tendencies and racial discrimination have shown in the past couple of weeks, it is important to take note of our ability to degenerate and dehumanise our consciousness. 

We are all aware that like rest of the country, our brothers and sisters from the northeastern states of India are equally fighting the battle against novel coronavirus and they are as vulnerable to the infection as is anybody else. But despite this, we have seen how in the past couple of weeks cases of racial discrimination, violence and xenophobia have grown against the people from India’s northeast. 

If we don’t eradicate the disease of racism and xenophobia from our consciousness we may end up causing an irreparable damage to our own countrymen. Racism as a tendency needs to be eradicated from the country with immediate effect. 

Racial profiling of others, ridiculing and discriminating against others on the basis of their ethnicity and above all stigmatising people with particular physical traits, kills the whole spirit of a collective fight.

It is time that we all stand up against racism and spread the word for a revival of humanity above all differences and resist the perpetuation and continuing trends of xenophobic practice from the society. It is time for us all to become change-makers and stand in solidarity against all forms of discrimination.  It is in this context that we need to look into the ongoing violence and discrimination against the people of the northeastern states, who have been facing racially motivated attacks around the country. They are being blamed for bringing the coronavirus to India due to their appearance.

It is ironic that merely because facial features of people from India’s north-eastern states can look similar to a Han Chinese appearance they should become victims of perpetual abuse, attack and even social boycott. Victims suggest that it is their resemblance to the Chinese that has brought about extreme cases of violence, abuse and attacks on them ever since the coronavirus pandemic set its’ foot in the country.

Stopping racism against people from the northeast has ever been a priority 

Manipuri girl was spat on by a man | Image – Twitter

It is extremely tragic that hardly any serous steps have been taken by the state to ensure that these xenophobic tendencies are addressed. In 2012, thousands of people originally from India’s northeastern parts were forced to flee Bangalore due to ethnic attacks. It was during this time that more than 170,000 people fled their home as result of the unrest, which later spilled out into different parts of the country. 

In 2014, the student community from India’s northeastern states staged a protest against racist attacks for an entire week in New Delhi.

In fact, the passage of years hardly seems to have made the plight of people from the northeastern states any better in the absence of a sustained state led effort to curb xenophobia tendencies.

 In a recently published report, “Coronavirus Pandemic: India’s Mongoloid Looking People Face Upsurge of Racism”, the New Delhi based civil rights body Rights and Risk Analysis Group(RRAG)cited 22 cases of racial discretion that had occurred in different parts of the country between February 7 to March 25 against people from India’s northeast.

It is very sad that contrary to the need of the hour when the whole country should stand united in its efforts to deal with the crisis that the coronavirus pandemic has put us in, unfortunate incidents such as racial attacks and discrimination against the people from India’s northeastern states continue to jolt the nation. 

What is further tragic is the inability of the government to ensure that stringent measures are adopted to punish the perpetrators of such attacks. It is the need of the hour for the government to protect the rights and dignity of people from the northeast as they have become even more vulnerable in such times. Enforcing the lockdown and containing the spread of coronavirus is our national as well as social responsibility and we cannot do that if racism and xenophobia continue to divide us and break our spirit of a struggle marked by solidarity.

Ananya Pathak is Associate Editor, The New Leam