New Delhi, May 24 (IANSlife) With the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus and the exponential rise in the number of cases, people from the North Eastern states of India, besides being affected by the pandemic, have also been hit by racial profiling and discrimination based on their appearance.
Given the fact that they possess features of a typical ''Asian look'' - causing them to be likened to the citizens of China, from where the deadly virus spread to the world. Deliberately or a case of mistaken identity, people from the Northeast have become victims of attacks, racial slurs and stereotypical discrimination.
It was not long before a certain section of people started to vent their Coronavirus-manifested frustrations on Indians from the Northeast by name calling them "Coronavirus", "Corona" etc. This, at a time when the entire country is anxious about preventing the pandemic wreaking even more havoc.
In the past one month and through the various phases of the lockdown, cases of discrimination based on racial profiling have intensified. IANSlife spoke with many such victims who have faced rent issues, lack of essentials, finance problems, landlord and tenant issues, non-payment of salary, loss of job, medical emergencies with physical abuse and verbal slurring, due to the perceived resemblance.
Many who are facing the brunt of these attacks are still stranded in different parts of the country and unable to make their way home, while they have mercilessly been asked to vacate their rented apartments, hostels and paying guest accommodations.
In a typical incident during this lockdown-- a 20-year-old Manipuri girl, was racially abused and physically attacked, by an elderly woman and few others in Haryans''s Gurgaon; while an individual being spat on by random strangers, say reports.
Like many across the country, the Northeastern region accounts for thousands of residents contributing to the workforce and skilled labour in Indian metropolitan cities, who migrate in search of better work and educational opportunities.
"Racism happens everywhere around the world directly or indirectly. What is happening to North Eastern people during this pandemic is unfortunate and it''s been happening to us for a very long time even before this global health crisis. I pray and hope that one day, Indians no matter which part of the country we are from and what we look like, we can respect each other and live as one," says singer and musician Alobo Naga.
In an act of solidarity and unity, like-minded people from the region across diverse professions such as civil service, law, social work, public health, education, and other professions have joined hands with Special Police Unit for North Eastern Region (SPUNER), Delhi Police who work for the security of the Northeastern people, with a 24x7 dedicated Helpline ''1093'' (Toll Free) under the supervision of David Lalrinsanga, IPS. Joint Commissioner Cum Nodal Officer for northeast people in Delhi since it''s inception in 2014, form the North East Task Force (NETF); a platform streamlined to address and redress the issues and grievances faced by the Northeast community at this time of crisis.
It was initially started to mitigate the challenges and concerns that COVID-19 has posed to Northeastern people residing in Delhi-NCR, but later extended its presence pan-India by offering advice and assistance to people through its respective networks, acting as the focal point for connection. It facilitates and connects victims and people to their respective state governments or concerned authorities.
Hibu Tamang IPS, Addl. Commissioner, SPUNER, Delhi Police said, "The SPUNER teams have been rendering other humanitarian services to the North Eastern people in Delhi-NCR. Adding, "Many lost their jobs and were unable to pay house rents. The house owners troubled them and asked them to pay the rent or to vacate rooms. Some house owners even disconnected the electricity and drinking water connection for non payment of house rents. Many were being ill treated and the people around called them as "Chinese Corona". The North East Task Force (NETF) with the support of SPUNER, Delhi Police have helped resolve the complaints received.".
J Maivio, special invitee member of Monitoring Committee, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), also commented on the massive surge in racism and xenophobia related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Unfortunately the North East community has for years been subjected to xenophobia and racism by various sections of people. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has literally opened the flood gates and there is a surge in racial discrimination towards people from the region. Ever since the corona virus made its presence in China''s Wuhan, the viral racial tremors have been severely felt in India. We have been receiving reports of racial attacks across India." said J Maivio
To combate the discrimination, he also stressed on:
Insertion of section 153C, 505A/509A to include racial discrimination; derogatory remarks relating to race, culture, customs, identity or physical appearances to be made punishable.
Explore the possibility of setting up a police unit like SPUNER, Delhi Police and extension of helpline (Toll Free) number ''1093'' to other metropolitan cities.
Include components of Northeast in the teachers/ educators training conducted by National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE).
Inclusion of curriculum for students across the country on Northeast India.
Increase in special recruitment of police personnel from Northeast at various level.
Sensitizing the law enforcing agencies about the people and culture of the Northeast as a part of training.
Radhika Bapat, Clinical Psychotherapist states, "We have repeatedly seen dehumanising of groups in history - The Ku Klux Klan portraying people of dark colour as animalistic, the Nazi''s portraying the Jews as unworthy of human rights, the Hutu referring to the Tutsi as cockroaches, Indians referring to Chinese people (based on their looks) as ''Chinki'', and the long-standing Brahmanical front and caste system of social stratification that we see till date manifesting in occupational settings where the lower castes were referred to as "untouchables" (sanitary services such as carrying night soil or scavenging).
This behaviour comes from a "feeling" that somehow "we" are superior beings and "they" are below us. In order to overcome discrimination, you have to be aware of it. Once you have the insight, you now have the choice to either stand-up for those being discriminated against and be a hero, do nothing and be a spectator, or join the masses and do evil".
The effect and the toll on people being discriminated on the basis of racial and regional profiling during such hard time could be massive. It is imperative for us as Indians to stand together for each other during this crisis.
(N. Lothungbeni Humtsoe can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)