New Delhi: Following the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), students from the northeast have alleged that incidents of “racial discrimination” against them have surfaced again. On 9 March, two students from the northeast were harassed and called “coronavirus” by three men at GTB Nagar metro station. On 8 March, a bunch of children threw water balloons at northeast students practicing basketball while calling them  “virus, virus”, a victim alleged.

“It has become a new normal. We face it in every aspect of our life. In metro, people stare at us suspiciously and try to move away from us,” the victim said.

“Just a day before Holi, we were practising basketball for a match. Suddenly, a bunch of children came and threw water balloons at us and ran away shouting ‘virus’,” a victim added.

While many students have been facing such discrimination, only a few have so far filed an FIR with the authorities. “I didn’t complain to police or any authority as they don’t take it seriously. It has become very normal right now. Everybody is facing it,” said one of the victims.

“Some students did file FIRs. But the police do not bother to take us very seriously. They just try to normalise everything and ask students to return to their hostel and campuses,” a student of the northeast cell of Miranda House told The Sunday Guardian.

Earlier, in DU’s Kirori Mall College, northeastern students were called “coronavirus” by a group of fellow students. In response, the college’s principal promised to take action against the offenders, and proposed to hold sensitisation sessions on the campus.

However, students told The Sunday Guardian that neither any action has been taken nor any sensitisation session organised so far. In another incident, a student from Arunachal was similarly called “coronavirus” by some kids at a departmental store in Vijay Nagar. “She was so helpless that she started crying after that,” a student of SRCC College of DU said.

“These incidents have become so normal that if you go on filing complaints, there will be two-three cases every day. But the thing is not about policing only, sometimes, it’s more of a mindset problem of people,” the student added.

Unmilan Kalita of Ramjas College’s northeast cell told The Sunday guardian, “In North Campus, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, there have been incidents of racism which were aimed at students who were particularly from the northeast, mostly because of their Mongoloid and Tibeto-Burmese looks.”

While most of these incidents coincided with the recent Holi celebrations, students complain of often being targets of racial slurs on the campus. “Every year, we organise northeast fest and set up ethnic food stalls to introduce people to our culture. This year, a guy came up to me and asked, Isbar Coronavirus bhi milega kya’, to be exact,” said a student of Ramjas College on the condition of anonymity.

Biswajit Bora who hails from Assam and now teaches in Delhi University’s Shyama Prasad Mukharjee college, told The Sunday Guardian, “Calling students from the northeast ‘coronavirus’ because of their Mongoloid features and because the first reported cases of the virus infection were in Wuhan, China, reflects deep rooted racism and casteism in Indian society, the systemic ‘othering’ of those who are not us, a reality which we immediately deny. This denial is a structural problem of modern society. As a society, we must accept the truth that we are shamelessly casteist, racist, misogynist, homophobic, and Islamophobic. And in terms of sensitising human beings, our education has definitely failed us too.”