After the ‘Janata Curfew‘ ended on 22nd March, the same evening, a man spat on a girl from Manipur while she was returning from grocery shopping. He also shouted “Corona” at her before running away on his two-wheeler. Later, photos of the splattered chewed tobacco on her clothes and neck went viral on social media.
In another incident on 28th March, a 20-year-old student from Nagaland, living in Mysuru, wasn’t allowed to enter a store. Even after the student showed the security guard his Aadhar card, the boy was told that he is a foreigner and denied entry. After a video of this incident was widely shared on social media, the police took cognisance and registered a complaint.
There are various reports of landlords asking their tenants from the northeast to evict houses. The absurdity of this racism further got exposed when some of the landlords went on to file police complaints against some people from the northeast, alleging them of being foreigners and possible carriers of coronavirus.
The Northeast region has had its own share of discordance post independence, filled with endless conflicts. There has been a continuous influx of foreign migrants, taking away jobs and the land of original inhabitants, followed by the Assam Movement of 1980s. Conflicts with the government of India across the northeast States, like the Naga insurgency or the Bodoland militancy, and other secessionist demands have engulfed this part of the country.
The immense diversity in language and culture in these States has led to internal conflicts like the persecution of Bru tribes of Mizoram. The region’s constant struggle with identity, language and land has hindered its progress. The inhabitants are forced to travel to the mainland in search of better opportunities and education.
However, their struggles remain unimportant to citizens of the mainland; their involvement remains unacknowledged and their voices are continuously undermined. This has led to their voices being perceived as inferior. This has evidently been portrayed in the recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act across the mainland.
The apprehension of Assamese people of the new law granting citizenship to illegal migrants from Bangladesh who entered India between 1971 and 2014 was broadly overlooked. The law legitimises 43 years’ worth of influx of illegal migrants. The Government completely ignored the struggles of Assamese people during the agitation of 1980s that led to the signing of the Assam Accord (1985) and killing of over 860 people.
This disregard by the Government inspires inferiority, which in turn motivates some people to consider them as insignificant. Moreover, it emboldens some passionate people of the mainland to racially attack these people and refuse to consider them a part of India.
Social and racial discrimination has more to do with just the stigmas attached to one’s personality; what do you eat, what language do you speak, how do you look. Your economic situation will never be a permanent solution to such discrimination. In an interview, international medalist Jwala Gutta shared her struggles in India due to her appearance, and the fact that her mother is Chinese. She has been called “half-Chinese”, “Chinese maal” and “half-corona”, and this is after she has represented India at innumerable international events.
Clearly, there is a dire need for sensitisation among mainland citizens. Further, their treatment by the law, executive and people will also decide the region’s future. The man who spat on the girl from Manipur was arrested and charged only under IPC 509, put for “insulting the modesty of a woman”. Imprisonment under this can be for a maximum of one year, with or without fine. However, is it enough? Was the intention of crime to only harm the woman’s modesty? Sadly, the police themselves do not have much to work with nor is there enough will. Currently, there are no anti-racial laws in the country, and the various demands for it largely go unnoticed.