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Self-inflicted stigma

The singular lesson to be drawn from the Corona crisis is one of the inextricable-interdependence of mankind on each other. Amidst this picture of unprecedented gloom to add further misery by venting wholly inelegant, untrue and unintelligible racism is most unfortunate. The onus is on society’s leaders, political, administrative, religious or even celebrities to calm tempers, stigmatisation and accusations by unequivocally condemning the same, as unacceptable. Sadly, it has taken a crisis like this to showcase the prevailing faultlines in our society and the vulnerability of the ‘inclusive’ idea of the Indian Constitution.

BHOPINDER SINGH | New Delhi |

The singular lesson to be drawn from the Corona crisis is one of the inextricable-interdependence of mankind on each other. Amidst this picture of unprecedented gloom to add further misery by venting wholly inelegant, untrue and unintelligible racism is most unfortunate.

The onus is on society’s leaders, political, administrative, religious or even celebrities to calm tempers, stigmatisation and accusations by unequivocally condemning the same, as unacceptable. Sadly, it has taken a crisis like this to showcase the prevailing faultlines in our society and the vulnerability of the ‘inclusive’ idea of the Indian Constitution.

Wars and tragedies can have contradictory societal impacts about those unfairly perceived as ‘others’. It either leads to the demolition of stereotypes and underlying perceptions, or it can even reinforce previously held biases.

Covid-19 is both a deadly war and a tragedy, in which the faceless enemy has spared none. In such an all-pervasive tragedy the futility of classifying anyone as the veritable ‘other’, ought to have united mankind. However, historical and political positions of ‘divide’ are of immense value to the incorrigible politicians, ignoramuses and bigots, who continue to stoke discrimination and stigmatisation, even in these trying times.

Amidst the crippling global lockdown and pandemic, President Donald Trump has provocatively insisted on calling it the ‘Chinese Virus’, as part of his shadow-boxing agenda. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy or ‘Mad Cow’ disease, which originated in the United Kingdom, is not called the ‘British Virus’.

Nor for that matter is the Ebola virus which originated in the Congo region called the ‘Congolese Virus.

The tag of a country, religion or ethnicity to a disease or virus, is increasingly considered as offensive, racist and discriminatory. India also struggles to overcome its subliminal instincts and impulses of perceived ‘others’ in its midst.

Even though the menace of Coronavirus has cut across the regional, religious, ethnic and other societal ‘divides’ in equal measure, the tendency to persist and taint the ‘other’ sections of society continues unabated.

No opportunity is spared in latching on to any irresponsible act of a misguided individual or group of individuals, to then conveniently extrapolate the same and attribute the misdeed as a deliberate part of the larger agenda of the proverbial ‘others’, amongst us.

The simplistic stereotypes and the narrative are then generously fanned by vested politicians and a reckless media to enhance the societal ‘divides’ and polarise the environment. In the melee of overall helplessness and frustration owing to the lockdown and the attendant constraints, the lazy propagation of such regressive discrimination leads to the pent-up ventilation by way of convenient blame-game, however untrue. Either out of ignorance or out of deliberate bigotry, we chose to ignore facts about the layered complexity of our communities and the need to avoid stereotyping.

People with vested interests posit stray or old incidents to ignite latent passions recklessly, not realising the dangerous bitterness and suspicions they unleash in societies. Every Muslim is not of a Tablighi sect.

This is conveniently ignored, as is the fact that every Tablighi may or may not concur with the actions of Maulana Saad. But these details and saner voices of the community are drowned in the din of accusations. Similarly, every Sikh is not a Nihang, and certainly not every Nihang will subscribe to the act of cutting the hands of a policeman.

Here too, many community seniors slammed the actions of those who perpetrated the heinous crime. Every Hindu does not belong to a supremacist outfit or subscribe to extremist ideology.

To attribute such generalisation on all Hindus may grudgingly be understandable from an enemynation, but certainly not from ourselves.

Each region, ethnicity or religion has extremist elements and it is always tempting to slam the whole comity of the supposed ‘others’ through them. Restraint, facts and maturity are demanded, especially in such trying times.

However, the most cruel and despicable expression of inherent racism was found in the attribution of ‘Chinese’ identity onto our own citizenry who have ‘Mongloid’ features.

Amongst the growing number of discriminatory acts that befell on our own citizens was the case of a Naga girl in a Mysore store who was physically chased away, even as she showed her Aadhaar card to prove her ‘Indianness’.

At other places the shocking insensitivity had led people to lodge official complaints against those who belong to the NorthEast, wanting the p0olice to test them for coronavirus, as they were ostensibly ‘Chinese’! Similarly, many Indians have been abused, spaton and name-called with indignations that ought to shame our proclaimed ‘Unity in Diversity’.

Even the more subtle, though equally malicious form of racism is to ask our own citizens to vacate premises, deny-entry or even suddenly end the tenancy agreements, owing to their obvious ethnicities or physicality.

The wounds that such xenophobic experiences inflict, completely undoes the painfully slow progress that India had made towards integrating the seven states of the North-East. Besides, people with similar features would inhabit the northern regions of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, but such facts are beyond the knowledge, inclination or decency of some.

The North-Eastern states have had a complex, fractured and historically tentative integration that had some genuine grievances, local concerns and had entailed mis-steps from all sides. This had led to armed insurgency to protect their ‘identity’ and only after decades of reassurances and accords, did we inch back towards normalcy.

The societies outside the North-Eastern states did not help matters by using pejorative expressions like ‘Chinky’, or now ‘Chinese’, to reflect their own boorishness. The government has issued advisories to evolve societies towards more sensitivity, inclusiveness and progressive insistences like ‘Do not label any community or area for the spread of Covid-19’, ‘avoid spreading fear and panic’ etc.

However, the society has not even spared those who are providing essential life-sustaining services in the forefront of the battle against Covid-19. The ignorance, lies and bigotry of society are in full display.

The singular lesson to be drawn from the Corona crisis is one of the inextricable-interdependence of mankind on each other. Amidst this picture of unprecedented gloom to add further misery by venting wholly inelegant, untrue and unintelligible racism is most unfortunate.

The onus is on society’s leaders, political, administrative, religious or even celebrities to calm tempers, stigmatisation and accusations by unequivocally condemning the same, as unacceptable. Sadly, it has taken a crisis like this to showcase the prevailing faultlines in our society and the vulnerability of the ‘inclusive’ idea of the Indian Constitution.