Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Xenophobia and COVID-19
IFP Bureau | First Published: March 23, 2020 00:27:16 am
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Racism can be manifested in numerous ways. In a world afflicted by COVID-19 scare, the ugly heads of xenophobia are being raised again. On February 27, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had stated that the coronavirus epidemic has set off a disturbing wave of prejudice against people of Chinese and East Asian ethnicity. She called on member states to do their utmost to combat this and other forms of discrimination. However, her plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears given the growing anti-Asian racism and xenophobia in the wake of coronavirus pandemic. While observers have noted that most nation states while referring to COVID-19 with terms like ‘Chinese Coronavirus or Wuhan flu’ had directly or indirectly fueled a wave of xenophobic animosity toward people of Asian origin.

Despite the emphasis given to political correctness by world leaders, it has apparently become common to refer to the contagious disease by its geographic origin. Many have even suggested that calling COVID-19 the ‘Chinese Coronavirus’ is accurate since it originated in China. Even the US President Donald Trump has no qualms about calling coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus’, however politically incorrect it may sound.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, several accounts of racism and xenophobia have been reported and documented on social media. While some governments and politicians have denounced such incidents related to the outbreak, others think much more could be done to show support for people of Chinese origin worldwide, says a report by the Time magazine. There have been reports of people of East Asian appearance being ‘verbally abused, kicked off public transport, denied entrance to shops, spat on and even violently attacked’ in Australia, Europe, and the US. Fear, racism and misinformation have indeed contributed to a global rise in anti-Asian sentiments. It has been reported that that the most reported victims of the racial discrimination have nothing to do with coronavirus. There has been an all round condemnation of a practice that supposedly aims at countering COVID-19 through the use of racist memes.

Closer home, persons hailing from Northeast India and living elsewhere across the country have been racially targeted and are being called ‘corona’. The people from the Northeast region have been targeted because of their looks. Students from Northeast India who study in major Indian cities have reportedly experienced harassment related to the coronavirus outbreak. Northeast students in Kirori Mal College, Delhi University, have filed a complaint to college authorities about harassment meted out to them by other students. Another eight students from Northeast at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai also alleged that they have been subjected to racism and harassment.

Such incidents related to racial discrimination dampen the spirit of collective fight against the raging pandemic and it would only heighten the spread of already negatively stereotyped communities in India. Moreover, these incidents of racial abuses also obscure the fact that currently most of the states of the Northeast have not been officially recognized as affected by the pandemic, despite the pan-India effort to combat the pandemic.  Now is the time to say ‘stop’ to racial discrimination and halt the spread of the COVID-19.

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