The outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has led to uncertainty, forced people to reshape their lives, strained the health care system and disrupted economic livelihoods. In all of this, citizens are victims. But there is one other consequence, for which a set of citizens have been responsible — the spurt in racist attacks, particularly against fellow citizens from the Northeast. A man on a motorbike, most recently, spat on a young woman from Manipur, in Delhi’s Vijay Nagar, called her “corona”, before speeding away. This follows other incidents, in Kolkata, Pune, and other parts of the country, where those from the Northeast have been called “corona” or “coronavirus”.
Prejudice against those from the Northeast has been a deeply disturbing, unfortunate, and unacceptable feature in the past. This has often taken the form of slurs, physical attacks and stigmatisation. But the depth of prejudice that still exists is apparent in these recent attacks. Here is how the perpetrators seem to think — the virus originated in China; the Chinese are responsible; those from the Northeast “look like” the Chinese; and so, they are responsible and must be attacked. This line of thinking and mindset reflect deep ignorance at many levels, and outright racism. This must be condemned in the strongest terms possible.
But mere condemnation is not enough. Legal consequences must follow. Anyone who engages in discriminatory and racist behaviour is acting unconstitutionally. The authorities must act. Racism is unacceptable at any time. And at a moment when the country must come together to battle the pandemic, to stigmatise an entire group of fellow citizens because of their physical features is criminal. Stop this, now.