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Op-Ed

Dual Fight for NE Migrants in Mainland India: Novel Covid-19 Pandemic and Contemporary Racism

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By EMN Updated: Apr 11, 2020 11:55 pm
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When the whole universe has a tough battle against the pandemic, the Northeast students and migrants in mainland India has to double their fights- one with Covid-19 pandemic and racism (contemporary racism) in particular. The novel coronavirus pandemic situation in India is surging and coronavirus deaths in India cross 200 mark and cases rise to 6,761 and global coronavirus death toll doubles in 8 days and crosses one lakh as of Saturday update,  so also racism doesn’t seem to die down but unfortunately it resurface/resurgent with the human to human infection disease. Contemporary racism is, in the present context, the prevalence of racial discrimination in India and the world. This very concept brings us to understand that racism is not dead and it is still occurring. Contemporary racism is a dynamic process which can be understood through different frameworks. One may look at contemporary racism as an outcome of perpetrator’s blatant act or intentional and unintentional against another group based on colour, race, sex, beliefs and religious faith. Keeping with that in mind, the racist incidents towards Northeast migrants which happened in mainland India are more kind of hate crimes. This was revealed in various incidences that happened in different metro cities in India against north-eastern states migrants. The acts of discrimination on race in India are more type of considering the people of Northeast migrants as “others”. The dominant classes take advantage of the minority sections of the populations. Seeing more closely when people consider race as “other” there is an act of discrimination upon the minority race. This kind of construction of “otherness” such as inferiority, incivility, uncivilized, economically weak, sexual violence, racist incidents etc are the key tools of contemporary racism in India.

Contemporary racism in India is reproduced through a racialisation that includes well rehearsed stereotypes of Northeast migrants, perception of minority and inferiority as well as considering the “Other” (in this case Northeast migrants) do not belong, or are absent. That is how many Northeast migrants feel alienated and otherness. That is how the crime against Northeast migrants increases especially the women are targeted population. The important aspect which I would like to draw out is the racialisation. Racialisation is a process by which groups are identified, given stereotypical characteristics, and coerced into specific living conditions; they also add that this often involves “social/spatial segregation” or otherwise “racialised places”. This process need not necessarily operated through racial differentiation e.g., genetics, skin colour, appearances, etc. but can also operate through asserted cultural features such as religious performances. In India what the Northeast migrants are facing are cluster of racial discriminations in various forms and nature. It has the characteristics of stereotyping, judgemental attitude, racial prejudices, social profiling, murder, rape, molestation, sexual violence, and verbal violence etc. It has all the forms of contemporary racism. The cases of racial discrimination are being recorded which could be seen in the coming next points.

Racism is ugly. It divides people into “us” and “them”, based on where we come from or the colour of our skin. And it happens when people feel that it’s okay to treat others badly as they go about their daily lives. Racism can happen in lots of different ways. You hear racism when people make jokes or negative comments about particular ethnic group, call other racist names or verbally abuse them, bully, hassle or intimidate others because of their race. You see racism when people write racist graffiti in public places, make offensive comments online, when people are excluded from groups because they are “different” or “don’t belong” and are physically abuse because of their race.

Some of the narrated incidences are cited here which had racial in nature. To begin with we start off with racial epithets/slurs. At a time when the healthcare workers are fighting the battle against the Covid-19 from the frontline, their dedication is crushed by the stigma prevailing in the mindset of the people. Racial epithets/slurs are being on the rise with the emergence of coronavirus Pandemic in mainland India and the northeast people were called labelled as ‘corona’ or ‘coronavirus’. This act of racism, victimization, and discrimination are on the rise during the lockdown and one could foresee what could happen after the lockdown. In retrospection we could rephrase the names which they use racial epithets such as ‘chow’, ‘momo’, ‘chinky’, ‘nepalee’, all because of the mongoloid phenotypes against the people who belong to Northeast. Many of the mainland Indians are ignorant about the geography, the culture, religion, customs, traditions, history, and they have no idea about the northeast states accept the model of ‘multiculturalism’ and where every tribes value the worth, dignity and humanitarian value of the person. This has been lacking in other part of the country and they therefore centred their perception in misidentifying the ethnic minority of Northeast people.

So in a way when citizens of other states are illiterate about the rich northeast states, they draw the illogical conclusion that northeast people are foreigners and they treat it as xenophobic. Besides experiences of the north-eastern people has tend to be of false stereotype and often this has been carried over in the form of racial and class biases. Thus this form of racism is coupled with corona-phobia amongst the mainland Indians in major cities and there they committed the blatant and intentional act of racism against Northeast people.

There had been reported and unreported cases of racial epithets, racial profiling, racial violence, stereotyping and prejudices. Several incidents would highlight that contemporary racism in India is deliberate and intentional. A woman from Manipur was verbally abused, spat on her and called her “corona” in the national capital of India on 22nd march. On the same night, a group of students in Kolkata were allegedly attacked and beaten by their neighbours who demanded they left the premises. Similar incidents was reported in which Rinzin Dorjee (74) and his daughter Tsering Yangzom who were reportedly denied entry to a Mulund society in Mumbai on March 16 as residents thought they were Chinese. Dorjee, a cancer patient, had a rented apartment in the society, but that day, he was stopped by the security guard as they thought he might be infected with corona, reports say. Singer-actor Meiyang Chang, who rose to fame after participating in Sony TV’s popular singing reality show ‘Indian Idol 3’, was called ‘Corona’. Another recent incident in which a Girl from Manipur was spat on in the Kalina Market area in Mumbai. Another incident occurred in which two students from Nagaland were blocked from entering a supermarket in Mysuru after in queue for 25 minutes. The due faced racial discrimination after the staff at the store called them ‘foreigner’. In a video shared online, one of the students can be heard saying, “we too are humans and we need groceries just like you guys”. Such untoward incidents proof to us that racism is real and alive and exist racial profiling, racial discrimination and prejudices and stereotyping exist. It was very disheartening to see in which the Northeast migrants are facing the heinous act of racial discrimination, racial violence, and racial epithets in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Now if we analyze the situation that happened in and around India the cases are more pronounced and more intentional especially after the announcement from the Prime Minister called for a nationwide lockdown. This has been due to cultural encapsulation and this gap has to be addressed to bridge the gap between the eight northeast states and the other parts of the country.

Many have come up with different measures to combat against racial discrimination in the Mainland India. Mention could be made of some remarkable works done for the Northeast Migrants. One such is North East Support Centre and Helpline under Dr. Alana Golmei who fights discrimination in major Indian cities against people from the north-eastern states in registering and filing cases. The focus of NESCH, these days, is mainly on legal awareness programme, sensitization to non-northeast people about north-eastern India and follows up of legal procedure with the help of Human Rights Law Network which helps NESCH pro bono. Another commendable work is done by Mr. Robin Hibu the founder of Helping Hands. Under his guidance, they serve North East Indian Citizens in distress with a targeted and focused approach to make a positive difference. In that, they provide legal assistance to NE poor people in cities by core legal team and National Labour Forum and career counselling for North East Youth in cities and North East States. In the wake of the rising cases of racism, racialisation, racial stereotyping and prejudices every respective members of the Northeast states who represent the people voice should speak up and put an end to this. In the midst of all these the culprits were apprehended and booked. With no proper legislations and policies I feel the cases of racism would keep happening. In order to combat this, the five key recommendation of Bezbaruah Committee Repost should be taken forward and implement it. By compulsion it is worth mentioned here the key recommendation such as: new law against discrimination should be promulgated as directed by High Court of Delhi or the India Penal Code; fast track court for handling the cases; intervention in Education; social media outreach and legal awareness campaign; and bonding power of sports. The case of Nido Tania is still pending since there is no fast track court and law to bring the culprit to justice arena. This has to be seriously studied and strive towards implementation.

Having seen, heard and experienced racism in all daily walks of life in the major Indian metro cities, there should be a policy recommendation where it be beneficial for policy makers, lawyers and officials and NGOs who are working for this cause:

•           The concept of ‘cultural encapsulation’ that existed is no longer feasible in a world of melding cultures; where there is more and more emphasis on the need for cultural responsiveness. Cultural responsiveness is a willingness and desire to learn from people of other cultures through questions, conversation and experience, and to find ways to genuinely relate to these people.

•           The officials/counsellor/social workers/ ministries who are working for this cause should adopt this strategy which is colour blind approach in order ‘to deny, ignore, and minimize the presence of racism in their own institutions, culture and personal behaviour’.

•           Mobile apps for antiracism would be valuable tools for the real-time and mapping capabilities, their portability an intimate bodily presence which enables a reaction exactly when an act of racism occurs. This would serve as a tool for capturing, reporting and responding to racist acts. The government could make a policy in which racism and antiracism are framed and the strengths and weaknesses of the initiations for countering dominant forms of everyday racism.

In sum up, certain presumption  that include variables could be taken into consideration while analysing the case of racism and that interfere the relationship between Northeast and the mainland Indians such as: the inability of the mainland Indians to comprehend the social, economic, and cultural customs of the Northeast states; lack of emphasis or awareness of the mainland Indians own feelings regarding race and class; and minimal scientific research on the particulars of Northeast minority behaviour. In fact there could be more cases of racism in the aftermath of Covid-19 pandemic and if that happen one could predict the nature of racism would be more of racial epithets, racial profiling, racial violence, racial stereotype and prejudices.

Meijianthaipou Ruangmei (Francis), the author of this article, is an assistant professor at department of Social Work, St. Joseph University- DMV.

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By EMN Updated: Apr 11, 2020 11:55:47 pm