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‘Chinkies’ and Coronavirus: Racial Encounters in India
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
State University of New York, Binghamton, United States
In March 2020, when the Narendra Modi government issued orders for a nation-wide lockdown, migrants in the major cities scrambled to get back to their native places to escape being stuck without jobs or food. While most tried to deal with lack of adequate transport, some even walking hundreds of miles in the hot weather, migrants from Northeast India (NE henceforth) were facing a much serious situation. They were being physically attacked and harassed, called ‘coronavirus,’ and refused access to stores and even their own residences. In all these cases, the connotation that people from the NE resemble the Chinese and therefore have a closer connection to China, the alleged place of the virus’ origin, only exposed the deep-set prejudices based on physical features. Though cases of violent attacks on NE Indians are not unprecedented, these recent incidents have accentuated the need to frame a discursive dialogue on race in India. So far, deliberations on racism, scholarly or in public opinion, often boil down to ‘forms’ of discrimination based on caste, language or religion. But it is not enough to explain the concomitant burden of a “racialized physicality” (McDuie-Ra 2015) – being at the margins of historical, political and even academic imaginations. This paper looks at recent cases of targeted attacks during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to examine how their ‘chinky looks’ marks the Northeastern people as different, peripheral, and external to mainstream Indian population.