GUWAHATI: Novel coronavirus appears to have become the new excuse for racial discrimination against people from the Northeast studying or working in the rest of India.
Nine youth from Nagaland were herded out of their office by the police after a complaint that they were infected with the virus. All of them were released more than 24 hours later but not before top police officers, including an IPS officer from Nagaland, intervened.
The incident took place in Ahmedabad on Friday. The victims included six young women. They work at an international call centre handling dental insurance.
Recounting the horror, a victim, Akhropele Cathy, said they suffered the humiliation despite being fully fit and fine.
“The police had come at around 7 pm and mistook us as Chinese. They said they had received a complaint against us that we are carrying the virus and as such, we have to be medically examined. We said we are Indians from Nagaland but they didn’t believe us. Eventually, we gave in thinking that it is just a medical examination and we must not have any worries as none of us is sick,” Cathy said.
She said even the hospital authorities did not believe they were Indians.
“Our call centre owner tried to convince them that we are Indians but they did not believe him. So, we were admitted against our wishes. After the test, the results came out negative but they did not discharge us until the police came to our rescue at around 11 pm on Saturday,” Cathy said.
“While being admitted, we tried to seek help from people from the Northeast by using social media. We sought help from a Naga IPS officer, Wapang Jamir, who is serving in Ahmedabad. We had also filmed a video narrating our plight and it went viral. News reached the Gujarat government. Police officers, including Jamir, arrived and we were released after they intervened,” Cathy said.
She said the hospital authorities had attributed their ordeal to misunderstanding.
“We are not the only people who faced this problem. People here think we are from China or some other Asian country. It is insulting. Most people there do not know there is a region in India called the Northeast,” she said.
The woman from Nagaland’s commercial hub Dimapur, who has been working in Ahmedabad for four years, said they heard the complaint against them was lodged by someone from the Congress.
She said three other young Naga women were evicted from their rented accommodation in the city by their landlord as he feared they were COVID-19 patients.
“I read a Facebook post which says someone in Delhi had spat on a girl from Manipur studying in a college under Delhi University. This is disgusting,” she added.
The Congress in Manipur demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak up against the “racial attacks” on people from the Northeast over the coronavirus.
“Dear Prime Minister, many people from Northeast India are today facing racial attacks in the cities over coronavirus. It has gone to the extent of potentially spreading COVID-19 by spitting on a DU college Manipuri girl student. Will you not speak?” asked Manipur Congress spokesman Ningombam Bupenda Meitei, who is a former faculty member at Hindu College.