Waves of COVID-19 pandemic: Perspectives of discrimination from Northeast India

Written by Shalome Khongsai

After being declared as a pandemic by WHO in March 2020, Coronavirus or COVID-19 has become a household word. It has almost affected all the countries in the world and India is one of the worst sufferers of this deadly virus. The virus has not singled out any one based on caste, creed, or colour. Such pandemics are epochal events, inevitable. The world has witnessed such events in every era and has pulled the past episodes with great challenges. The first wave of COVID-19 which started in December 2019 in Wuhan, China was termed as a pneumonia outbreak that affected the lives of millions in a short period.

Representative stock photo

Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations mentioned, “the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scaremongering”. Likewise, the cases of racial discrimination took a massive toll in the United States as well as the United Kingdom. In the UK, Asian hate was quite prominent, there were even some incidents where people are asked not to be treated by doctors and nurses of the Asian ethnicity. As an act of symbolizing ‘Asian hate’, some Chinese towns across the UK were boycotted; some Chinese students in Australia were also attacked by two women who yelled ” Go back to China”. Anti-Asian racism surged in the US where the headlines read that the former US president has termed the virus as a “Chinese Virus” blaming China as the spreader of this plague into the world. On the other hand, many black people faced serious issues of racism and discrimination in the various Chinese cities as well. Reports stated that the Africans in Guangzhou had been forced to quarantine and were tested despite showing no symptoms. Racism towards the black people in China has a long history while other foreigners have not been subjected to such cruelty. The weight of the blame held for the pandemic outbreak is heavy and spells of hate.

As every country finds a way out to tackle this pandemic, India also appears to battle another chapter of discrimination. The country which is home to many ethnic groups, the northeastern part of the country has been susceptible to biased incidents amid a major pandemic faced by the world. With the first COVID-19 case detected in India in early January 2020, it did create an atmosphere of fear and panic in India as the government decided to impose complete lockdowns.  

The Northeastern part has been tagged with the image of being called ‘Chinese’ in India as per the statements heard over the years. The pandemic has caused the nativity of otherness for the people hailing from the Northeast, residing in the metropolitan cities, who faced racism. There were a series of hate attacks mainly due to the physical appearance and some were even allegedly called ‘coronavirus’. As per a study conducted by the Centre of Criminology and Victimology under the National Law University(NLU), six metropolitan cities which were included(Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad) found most of the hate crimes were mitted out to the people of Northeast India.  A dismal sight to hear on the experiences when the whole world is trying to fight the pandemic at the expense of the Government’s sacrifice and hunt for solutions, the Northeast people were victims of discrimination, racial slurs such as ‘chinky’ ‘coronavirus’ and the common and disgusting question of being asked: “are you from China?”This series of abusive and discriminated episodes occurred valiantly afresh and as a racial target because of the physical features, here are some stories pinned down


An MPhil. scholar aged 25 was even spat on and called ‘coronavirus’ by a 50 yr old man as she went to get her groceries with the announcement of the nationwide lockdown around the 22nd march 2020. As she objected to him, he managed to run away by spitting pan juice and shouting ‘corona’ on her. Similar to this, an undergraduate student from Delhi University also fell victim to the stress.

In Ahmedabad, nine Naga youths who worked in an insurance company’s call centre were detained and had to go through a 24-hours quarantine despite showing no symptoms. They were manhandled because they had similar features to that of a Mongoloid. They are assumed to be potential carriers of the virus. In Mysore, some youths were barred from entering the grocery store even after the proof showing of their Aadhar card, which is another event concerning racial features.

Covid has surely breached the concept of being a serious social problem. The pandemic has widely affected the social life of people and barred us from the luxury of a normal life. As a human trail, we can express both the positive emotions and the negative emotions per symbolic interactionism where symbols are used to establish meanings.

At an unprecedented time, a mix of emotions and waves of stigmatization reveals what is symbolically valued in societies. These hate attack incidences bring in greater alarm to the wave of fear and anxiety already engulfing our society due to the rage of COVID19. Racial profiling and discrimination needs a massive solution as the concept of “Unity in Diversity” of India has been overlooked due to generalizations about looks, facial structures, food habits, and more. The divulging or the outbreak of the otherness done at this time will surely lead to a blunt impact and it can lead to a serious divergence in the future. The experiences faced may be deeply entrenched in one’s life and the scars need to be erased with proper awareness and enforcement.

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