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India: Citizens from North East State ostracized and threatened

Sunday 29 March 2020, by siawi3

Source: https://sabrangindia.in/article/they-zipped-past-me-bike-yelling-corona-corona-corona-naga-woman-mumbai

India
They zipped past me on a bike yelling “Corona, Corona, Corona”: Naga woman in Mumbai

Accused of being Chinese and spreading Coronavirus, people from North Eastern states heckled and harassed in Mumbai

Deborah Grey

27 Mar 2020

31-year-old Villy Kuho is originally from Nagaland. She is a content writer and lives in Vashi. Ever since the Covid-19 outbreak she has been facing varying degrees of discrimination and harassment due to her ethnicity.

“Discrimination has always been a problem for people from the North East, but it has intensified ever since the coronavirus outbreak. In fact, the first time I experienced something was when I had to go to Guwahati for some personal work,” she says. The incident took place on February 7, 2020 in the lounge of the Mumbai airport where Kuho had paid for a table to have her meal. “A young man who had not paid for the table, requested if he could sit with me. I agreed out of kindness. After a few minutes, he asked me if I was Chinese,” she recalls. “When I said no, he said he asked because or the coronavirus. I did not respond. It was offensive and insensitive, but I did not want to create a scene.”

But more such experiences followed and discrimination evolved into full blown ostracism and public insults. Sometime, Kuho commutes to and from her workplace in the western suburbs using public transport. “Once while travelling by train in early March, as soon as I took a seat, the lady next to me got up. I thought she was about to alight. But later on, I saw her get down at the same station as me. It means she just did not want to sit next to me. She gave me dirty looks and walked away,” recalls Kuho adding, “Then recently these guys heckled me. They were on a bike and zipped past me yelling, ‘Corona, Corona, Corona’. It was shocking!” Even when people don’t do anything this drastic, she often hears them muttering under their breath, giving her dirty looks or making an effort to stay far away from her.

“People are ignorant. But I don’t react most of the time. What if they retaliate against someone else? I find it best to not respond to people who insult me or make fun of me,” says Kuho highlighting her underlying concerns. But Kuho is not alone.

Recently two Manipuri girls were heckled in Bandra. But they in turn scolded their abuser and a local constable had to intervene. A video of the incident went viral and may be viewed here.

According to Thotmahai Raingam, Vice President, Tangkhul Welfare Mumbai and Former Advisor, Naga Student Union Mumbai, “There are over a lakh people from North Eastern states living, working and studying in different parts of Maharashtra. Mumbai and its suburbs are home to anywhere between 30,000 to 40,000 such people.” There are also nearly 3,000 people belonging to the Tangkhul community in Mumbai. These are Naga people, but from Manipur.

Raingam has been receiving complaints of discrimination and harassment from several people. “They call us Chinese or use racial slurs like Chinki. They accuse us of spreading the virus. Sometimes they call us Corona. It happened recently to my friend just outside Kurla station. Vendors surrounded him and started heckling him using racial slurs. In another case in Malad, a friend went with his family for a medical check-up, and every other patient in the waiting area just got up and stepped away from them.”

“There are also other ways of discrimination that we fear. This is the end of the month, cash and supplies are drying up. What if landlords start evicting us using non-payment of rent as a pretext? As it is, neighbours have become hostile. In fact, a Manipuri girl was not allowed to enter a shop when she went to purchase groceries,” he says.

Leo Tharmi Raikhan, who is a senior and highly respected member of the community says that most of the people from the northeast live in areas like Kalina, Vakola, Juhu and Mira Road in rental accommodations. “Many of them are daily wage earners or have extremely low incomes. These people work in hotels and restaurants, spas and salons, some work in call centers. They are under pressure to pay rent and fear eviction. It would be helpful if the Maharashtra government issued an advisory to landlords to relax rent payment during these trying times,” he urges. The 34-year-old has been living in Mumbai for 19 years. He previously worked in the hospitality industry and presently has his own spa and salon business in BKC. Raikhan is not only the President of the North East Catholics Association, but also the President of the BJP Christian Minorities Cell’s North Central Mumbai division.