Indians from the northeast face intensified racism as coronavirus fears grow

03 April 2020
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, northeasterners have been reporting a spike in racist attacks and discrimination.
Caisii Mao / NurPhoto / Getty Images
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, northeasterners have been reporting a spike in racist attacks and discrimination.
Caisii Mao / NurPhoto / Getty Images

A 24-year-old woman arrived at KPC Hospital in Jadavpur, in Kolkata, on 28 March, complaining of intense abdominal pain from a pre-diagnosed urinary-tract infection. She was denied entry to the emergency ward, and directed elsewhere to undergo screening for COVID-19, despite having no symptoms of viral infection or any known exposure to the novel coronavirus. The woman headed to MR Bangur Hospital in neighbouring Tollygunge—among the places she was directed to from KPC Hospital—and approached a doctor saying she was suffering from a UTI. Again, she was told she had to first undergo COVID-19 screening, but that the hospital did not have the required equipment. 

She left for a third hospital, farther away—the Beleghata ID and BG Hospital. There, she was told she did not require screening, and was finally treated for her UTI. When she got back home, at around 7 pm, she got a call from the police, demanding that she return to MR Bangur Hospital to be put in isolation. The hospital had lodged a first-information report against her, she told me, accusing her of having run away. Her pleas that she was only suffering from a UTI were ignored. 

Once the woman entered the hospital, she said, the gates were locked behind her. She showed her medical papers detailing her treatment for a UTI, and a certificate from the hospital in Beleghata that exempted her from COVID-19 screening, but was told, “Being a responsible citizen of India, please cooperate with us.” She was taken to an isolation ward, where she was kept for the night with at least a dozen patients suspected to have COVID-19. 

“I tried to explain to them that I had no symptoms,” the woman said. “I felt like I was being treated like a dog. I was hungry and in pain so I asked the nurse for medicine, but she just ignored me.” A doctor came to check on her on Sunday morning. His first question was, “Are you from China?” 

The 24-year-old woman is from Sikkim, though she has been living in Kolkata. Her mother appealed to ministers in her home state for help. After they intervened, along with the company where the woman works, she was finally released, after spending over twenty hours in the hospital.

Kimi Colney is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: racism china Northeast India coronavirus COVID-19 Sikkim Assam Meghalaya Tripura Nagaland Manipur Arunachal Pradesh
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