It’s a meal which I am unlikely to forget soon. What I witnessed at a restaurant in the upscale Pandara Market of Delhi has left me angry. It was a clear case of racism, ignorance, and spite.
I had gone to this small restaurant for a takeaway. It was near empty. That was surprising considering it was lunch hour and there are several offices nearby.
I barely noticed the young girl from Shillong (as I came to know later) who was quietly having her meal clearly during lunch break. As I waited for my order, I saw a small group of ladies walk in. They were part of a kitty party and, not surprisingly, loud. Suddenly, one of them shrieked: “What’s she doing here? How can she be allowed?”
I couldn’t help but look up. One of them was glaring at the young girl having her meal. The staff intervened to say they have taken all precautions. Indeed the restaurant had sanitisers on each table. The staffers were wearing masks. But one such woman was angry and walked up to the girl saying she should not be out there and go back to her country, China.
“I am from this country ma’am. I am from Shillong, which is in India”.
Not that this placated the ladies. They created a scene and demanded that the girl be asked to leave or they would call the health department. And the police.
The young girl began to cry and called someone over the phone for help. I just couldn’t accept this. Why this racial profiling? The ladies who turned out to be regulars told the manager they would stop coming and ensure that the restaurant was sealed. By now the staffers were helpless and looked for help. I got up to stop the ladies telling them I am a journalist and what they were doing is against the Constitution. Do you think they cared? N0.
By now, the young girl was inconsolable. She got up to leave. I walked out after her. The fact that I didn’t film them makes me feel guilty. Maybe naming and shaming them would stop this mindset. But I had followed the girl out. She turned to tell me: “I am getting used to people sniggering at me. Being called chinky, being looked down upon, as having loose morals. But this is carrying it too far.” Saying so, she walked away.
I went back to the restaurant to find the ladies had left. The staff tell me many have recently begun to stare at people who come from the Northeast. But never has something like this happened before.
Our fight against coronavirus sadly has been at the cost of our humanity.
(Pallavi Ghosh is a senior editor (politics) at CNN-News 18. Views expressed are her own)