North East students in Delhi taunted, called Coronavirus because they 'look Chinese'

A number of students of Delhi University say that they're now called Coronavirus, because they look like they're from China, and are targetted and attacked with water balloons during the Holi celebrat
Image for representational purpose only. This photograph was taken during a different occasion (Pic: PTI)
Image for representational purpose only. This photograph was taken during a different occasion (Pic: PTI)

Racist slurs no longer surprises Noihrit Gogoi. In his two-year-long stint as a student of Ramjas College, Delhi he has encountered various types of name calling everyday — for looking a certain way, hailing from the North East and for speaking Hindi with a different accent.

However, ever since the first case of the Coronavirus was reported in India, Noihrit noticed a curious new development. "Racism was always present in the University of Delhi campuses. But now, things have escalated. It was much subtler before, but now, people openly call us 'Coronavirus'," says this Assamese student. 

Wondering why? Because for over a month, Coronovirus was largely seen as a Chinese disease that started in China and pretty much did the round among Chinese people before making to every other country. Since most students from the North East have Mongloid features, resembling the average Chinese national, they have to bear the brunt of now being called Coronavirus.

Noihrit's isn't an isolated case. A lot of other students from the colleges of Delhi University echo similar problems. We spoke to Neha*, another student from Assam who also says that she was subjected to a lot of name-calling. "Everyday, on multiple occasions, we get called 'Coronavirus'. People have told me that the virus spread to India from China via the North East," she says. "This is quite sad and ridiculous at the same time. But sadly, there is nothing we can do," she adds. We asked Neha how she reacts to these insults and slurs. To this she says, "I mostly say nothing and walk past these racists ignoring them. That is the only thing that I can do. I mostly feel helpless," she says.

He tells us that things have become worse, especially after the Holi celebrations have begun. "It is quite difficult for us and the South Indian students to even go out. You never know when balloons filled with coloured water hits you. It doesn't target anyone else, but just us," he alleges. While most students who are spreading the Holi cheer (and colour) will refute this claim, the fact remains that the community of students from the North East feel like they have been affected.  

Reema*, another student recalls how she and her friends were called "bearers of Coronavirus", just the previous day before being attacked. "This was probably one of the worst days of my life. My friends and I were walking to a metro station, when three men threw a giant water balloon at my friend's breasts," she says. "She was completely drenched. The minute we got inside the metro, someone frowned upon us and said 'these Chinese people are so shameless that they walk around spreading Coronavirus everywhere'," she says.

This student from Meghalaya remembers how all of them were clad in kurtas at that time. "But it looks like our clothes weren't Indian enough for them," she laments. "We are used to being called offensive racist terms like 'chinki' and 'momo', but this is even worse. You'll be walking on the streets and suddenly you'll hear someone call you Coronavirus," she says.

Noihrit also says that a few friends of his have complained against this to the police, but they did not bother to take any action against this. "The police says that this happens all the time. This is actually true, because in one way or the other, we are discriminated everyday. I've been taunted for not speaking good Hindi. I was also denied apartments, because many think that people from the North East lead a 'pretty free' life," he says. Pretty free is the common expression for loose or Bohemian in common parlance.  

Responding to these cases, the Delhi University Students' Union said that it will look for a solution to this problem soon. "I am meeting the proctor tomorrow. Talks have been going on to set up a helpline number for the students from the North East soon. These events should not happen any further," says Akshit Dahiya, DUSU President.

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