Covid-19: What is India going to do about the Racism and Communalism epidemic that plagues it?

People from the minority communities are being targeted and treated as second class citizens amidst the pandemic

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As the coronavirus pandemic spreads its tentacles across the country, yet another a formidable virus, one of racism and communalism , has also raised its ugly head, as if in competition to show it could do more harm to people than a deadly infection.

The spread of the pandemic in India has unearthed the deepest nature of some of the people, whether out of fear of their lives or just due to discrimination that has been brewing in the country for centuries now.

Sabrang India had previously reported at least two instances of racism that people from the northeast of India had faced after they were called ‘Chinese’ and ‘Corona’ and blamed for spreading the virus to India just because of their ethnicity. People from the northeastern India who are settled and living in different parts of the country, face racism daily. They are seen as ‘outsiders’ in their own country. This has affected their social mobility and they are now even scared to venture out of their homes to buy essentials required for survival.

However, it’s not just people from the northeast, but even Dalits and those on the lower rung of the caste based hegemony that has been prevalent in India for decades, who have been discriminated against during the pandemic, often owing to their employment in essential services like sanitation.

The lockdown that the country is placed under to curb the spread of the virus, has freshly brought to the fore the stark discrimination against migrants, who were treated as second-class citizens robbed of their jobs, homes, food and couldn’t go back home to their families.

Not just in life, racism has managed to control people even in death. Below is a list of times that Indians discriminated against Indians, putting Indians to shame.

1.       Nine youth from Nagaland, including six women and three men, were forcibly quarantined in Ahmedabad despite showing no symptoms, no history of foreign travel or contact with a Covid-19 patient. They were simply quarantined on the complaint of some people who had complained that the nine youth could have been carrying the virus because they looked ‘Chinese’.

2.       In the capital, The Indian Express reported that a man first passed lewd comments at a 25-year-old woman in North-west Delhi. When she objected, he spat at her, yelled “Corona” and ran away.

3.       Despite showing identification, two people from Manipur were denied entry into a supermarket in Hyderabad. An FIR was filed against the store manager and two guards, reported India Today.

4.       In Haryana’s Paliwal district, the police arrested three people for allegedly attacking a Dalit family for not switching off the lights at 9 PM on April 5 as suggest by India’s PM Modi to mark India’s fight against the disease, The Indian Express reported. The accused, who were armed with sticks, iron rods and bricks, allegedly used casteist slurs and attacked eight people in the family.

5.       Newsclick reported that a Dalit woman was beaten up badly when she raised her voice against being denied rations by the ward councillor’s husband team for allegedly not voting for them during the elections. Soon the woman and her son, who had accompanied her to collect rations, were abused with casteist slurs and the verbal attack soon turned into a physical one. She accused the ward councillor’s husband, Amit Sharma, of hitting her on the head with a brick.  

6.       In Gorakhpur, a man refused to eat food since it was cooked by a Dalit. Newsclick reported Siraj Ahmad, a native of Bhujouli Khurd village of Kushinagar district, had returned from Delhi on April 9 and was staying at the village isolation centre along with four others. When the village head, Lilawati Devi, in absence of the cook, prepared food for all the people who were in isolation, Siraj refused to eat it, The Telegraph reported.

7.       The Muslim community, which was already under attack during the communal riots in Delhi, faced fresh troubles after the gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat held in mid-march in South Delhi in Nizamuddin West. The community was singled out by the police and government as being solely responsible for the spread of the virus. Lots of communal news reportage followed with some political leaders and news channels accusing the community of ‘Talibani crime’ and calling them ‘human bombs’, ‘Corona bombs’ and accusing them of spreading ‘Corona Jihad’.

8.       Gujarat’s Ahmedabad Civil Hospital had allegedly divided the wards for coronavirus patients and suspected cases on the basis of religion. The hospital had created a separate ward for Hindu patients and Muslim patients, as per a report by The Indian Express. A patient told the paper: “On Sunday night, the names of 28 men admitted in the first ward were called out. We were then shifted to another ward. “While we were not told why we were being shifted, all the names that were called out belonged to one community,” the patient added. Professor GH Rathod, Surgeon at the Civil Hospital there however denied the report saying that he was misquoted.

9.   In Uttar Pradesh, migrant workers were inhumanely sprayed with the same chemical bleach used to disinfect buses in a bid to clean off the coronavirus from their bodies.

These above are just ten incidents that have been recorded by the media in recent days. However, there must be scores of such incidents which don’t even come to light because people are scared of being ostracized from the community on reporting. Only the few who have access to community volunteers feel supported to report such inhuman discrimination.

While it looked like India would come together as one during this pandemic, the lax government measures that are yet to reach the poor and a deeply communal news media which often flaunts affinity to the ruling government and its ideologies, spread the racist and communal narrative to an already vulnerable audience.

The minorities in India have been given indifferent treatment for generations. How invisible they are, especially the underprivileged migrants, only became clear when they took to the streets in large numbers to make their voices heard.

Will the people of India take note of the obvious divide being etched out in front of them, or will they turn the other way?


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