A Pandemic Is No Excuse for Racist Attacks Against Indians From the North‑East
Last Sunday, in Delhi’s North Campus area, a Manipuri woman was accosted by a man on a two-wheeler, spat on, and called “corona,” in reference to the Covid19, or coronavirus, pandemic. Yesterday in Kolkata, students from North-East states were thrown out of their homes, and assaulted, both verbally and physically. In response to the sad trend, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a circular urging states to take strict action against racist attacks on North-East Indians.
India has a long, cruel list of racist attacks against North-East Indians, due to the region’s proximity to China and to widespread stereotypes about what ‘real’ Indians look like. Just as racism against Chinese people is seeing an uptick around the world, after the Covid19 virus originated in Wuhan, China, Indians are using the physical resemblance between many North-East citizens and their Chinese neighbors to excuse racist behavior toward both.
First, in case it needed saying (it shouldn’t): people from North-East India are Indian, not Chinese. Second, there is no single ‘right’ way for an Indian to look. And third, even if the virus did originate in China, an ordinary Chinese citizen or person of Chinese descent is in no way responsible for how a virus originates, what a virus does to a body, or how the virus spread in the initial stages of the disease’s discovery, when even less was known about the virus than the little we know now. The Chinese have been ravaged by the disease just as much as the rest of the world, if not more, and are victims, not perpetrators.
A pandemic is no excuse for racism — full stop.
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It’s natural to want someone to blame for the current crisis we’re in, but blaming people based on how they look is bigotry, not accountability. When our fear and anger at the deep inconvenience and distrss of the pandemic needs an outlet, bigotry is easy, because it gives us a scapegoat — someone to hate as a replacement for the forces that are actually answerable to us.
But bigotry isn’t a miracle cure for Covid19. Viruses, pathogens, and pandemics are natural outcomes of evolutionary biology — as the world keeps changing, so do they. Who we must hold responsible are our institutions and systems and the people we place at their helm to keep them running efficiently. People from a particular ethnicity or ‘look’ cannot cause a global crisis — powerful institutions and their inaction can.
While the world collectively works toward controlling the outbreak of the virus, we cannot impose double the amount of stress — both surviving the virus and coping with racist disdain/violence — simply because we are incapable of choosing humanity over our ingrained stereotypes. Until the Covid19 pandemic is brought to heel, choosing solidarity over racism is imperative: we cannot hurt each other just when we need each other the most.