Guwahati: With the outbreak of coronavirus, instances of racial discrimination against people of Northeast has once again come to the fore in ‘mainland’ India. Not that it didn’t happen earlier, but now, instead of the usual prejudiced terms like ‘momo, chinky, chowmein’, people are being outrightly called ‘coronavirus’.
‘Coronavirus’, the name for the novel virus which originated in China in January this year, has now acquired a whole new meaning — that is to catcall anyone with Mongoloid features; also, blaming and shaming them for ‘eating everything that moves’.
Speaking with EastMojo, Alana Golmei, advocate and chairperson of NE Support Centre and Helpline in New Delhi, said, “I was called coronavirus while roaming in NCERT campus with a friend from Meghalaya.”
Reiterating the incident, she said that a group of four-five NCERT staff were standing, and as Golmei and her friend came closer to them, one gentleman said: “Coronavirus aa gaya [Coronavirus has come]”.
On confronting, the person apologised, but Golmei raised concerns saying, “If a person like me also faces discrimination, then think about the young people.” Such taunts are provoking and discriminatory, she said.
Earlier last month, the advocate wrote a letter to Satyendra Garg, joint secretary (NE), Chairman, Monitoring Committee, Ministry of Home Affairs (NE Division), about Northeast people and those with Mongoloid features being termed as “coronavirus”.
She wrote, “Since the crisis of coronavirus disease was reported in China, other non-northeastern Indians in metro cities have started calling the Northeasterners ‘Coronavirus’ in the same way they’ve called them ‘Chinki,’ ‘Momo,’ ‘Chinese’ and ‘Chowmein.'”
Narrating the time when she faced discrimination, Golmei also added the accounts of several others to highlight the intensity of the issue.
“On 23rd February when I visited Dilli Haat, a lady from Ladakh sitting in one of the stalls narrated to me that some people in the streets of Delhi called her Coronavirus. She was quite upset and said, ‘I tried to explain to them that we are not Chinese but they refused to listen and kept calling me Coronavirus’.”
She mentioned two instances of people who faced such jeering, one in Delhi and another in Mumbai.
Horchipem Khamrang from Manipur residing in New Delhi said, “This happened twice, first at Safdarjung when I was in a hurry and the second one was on 22nd February 2020. When I stared back very seriously. They stopped and avoided eye contact.” Another woman Thuimei Kamei, said, “We are in Maharashtra, ten of us from Manipur, even here we face the same, local people call us coronavirus whenever we move out of the school campus.”
She called out the concerned authorities for not taking exemplary action against people passing such racist slurs, “therefore the ones on the doing end are taking this lightly. “
In the letter, she appealed to come out with a strong advisory to all the concerned institutions, offices and universities.
Speaking with EastMojo, Pamziuliu Gonmei, a 26-year-old assistant professor at the University of Delhi, said, “Within this month., I’ve been called ‘coronavirus’ by strangers twice.”
On March 10, a young boy at India Gate walked past her and said, “Ye toh Chinese hai, Corona, Corona [She is Chinese, Corona, Corona]”, and in another instance, she was walking in her colony in Mukherjee Nagar, when two boys pointed out to her and said, “Ye Corona [She is Corona]”.
Her younger sister, Ranchungailiu Gonmei, 23, who is pursuing her Master’s in English literature from DU, also faced indirect discrimination. Speaking with EastMojo, she said, “On March 18, I went to Hansraj College and on returning no one wanted to sit in the same e-rickshaw with me. They saw me and didn’t want to get in, instead, they took another rickshaw.”
“Though no one said anything, the most obvious was an elderly woman, she came to the e-rickshaw, looked at me and got into another rickshaw,” said the student.
She had to wait for 15-20 minutes that day, and when no one sat with her, she took a separate rickshaw home, not a shared one.
Assistant professor of Chemistry from Kamala Nehru College, Ramananda Singh said about a similar case which took place with a political science student from Arunachal faced. He said, “She was having lunch in college canteen and someone called her Coronavirus.”
The matter was taken up with college authorities, but who passed those comment could not be determined. Though the college does not have particular rules and punishment for students indulging in such discrimination, such acts are considered as acts of indiscipline.
Singh said to avoid more such cases, “We have requested college authorities for counselling for all students.”
A student from Meghalaya, who is pursuing Master’s in English from DU, said, “I usually eat this pickle which is non-vegetarian and as soon as I brought this pickle out, my roommate avoided me. The other day, he and his friends were talking about coronavirus and then while he was talking, he kept on looking at me and said ‘these type of people eats everything that’s why they get these type of diseases and he went on to the extent of saying that if he were in my place, he’d be a cannibal, he’d even eat people because he said that’s what these people are,” implying that Northeastern are cannibals.
EastMojo also spoke with Hibu Tamang, ACP, Special Police Unit for North-East Region (SPUNER), Delhi. [SPUNER is committed to serve the North East Community residing in the Capital and work towards an inclusive ecosystem]. He said, “I have been getting telephonic calls from students that they are being teased as coronavirus, but I haven’t received any written complaints.”
He said, 1-2 such cases may have been registered in local police stations, but none with SPUNER.
Such instances of racial discrimination reflect their xenophobic behaviour.
Advocate Golmei in her letter to Garg aptly poured out the reality of such jeering. She said, “At a time when we as humans should all be standing together with those who are suffering, it’s very unfortunate that some Indians are making a mockery out of it and calling their own citizens who look different by the name of such a dreadful virus.”