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'Chang Bhai, take care'

What I learnt about Indian racism from responses to Meiyang Chang’s post about being called ‘Corona’

Chang’s story of casual racism is playing out in the lives of many Indians from the North-East.facebook/meiyang chang
Chang’s story of casual racism is playing out in the lives of many Indians from the North-East.facebook/meiyang chang

When singer Meiyang Chang posted an interview of himself on Instagram titled “Two guys on a speeding bike in Mumbai called me Corona", the post went viral. “I wanted to scream back and hurl the choicest of gaalis but I didn’t see any point in it," Chang said in the interview. “Over the years, I have become used to these comments and yes, they are hurtful."

Chang’s story of casual racism in the time of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China, is one that is playing out in the lives of many Indians from the North-East who live and work across the country.

A man on a two-wheeler spat paan on a woman from Manipur and called her “corona" as he sped away. In one video I saw, two Naga students beg to enter More supermarket in Mysuru. “We have Aadhaar card," one of them says, pleading for groceries. The manager of the supermarket was later arrested.

I looked at the 1,000-plus responses to Chang’s Instagram post to see the different Indian responses to racism. I edited and rewrote for typos and so you wouldn’t be distracted. I left out the quote marks in some places—everything that appears in first person below is an edited response to Chang. Each sentence is a different response.

The heartbroken #MeToo. There were multiples echoes of the same here…same thing happened…I can totally relate to this because I have been through it…they called me corona too…while going shopping in Pondicherry.

Other similar replies: I live in Chandigarh and get silly comments like momo, chowmein—my co-workers call me chinki and my best friend called me corona. This happened to me in Pune two weeks back—I think our government needs to educate people about our country first, coronavirus education can come later. I dealt with this for 20 years—I’m Chakma from Tripura living in London, that doesn’t mean I’m not Indian. Even my friends in Bangalore are facing the same problem—people are shouting go back coronavirus. We feel insecure in our own country.

The spreaders of virtual love. They feel helpless and heartbroken when they hear such hateful stories. They offer virtual love, hugs and hope that their apology, on behalf of their racist countrymen, will drive away at least a little bit of the pain. They pepper their speech with affectionate words like brother. They repeat that magic mantra that is increasingly precious in these turbulent times: You are as Indian as me.

Chang got his share of lovely messages from this group: We love you to the moon and back Chang. Chang bhai, take care. Please accept my apologies. I feel disgusted. So sorry for what you are dealing with. And since this is India, they offer advice using Bollywood references like that classic song from Amar Prem: Kuch to log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna. Its rough translation—simply ignore—also showed up in a reply.

The dispassionate cynics. They state the facts, unvarnished by pleasantries and heart emojis: We complain about other nationalities being racists but we seem to be the biggest racists. Some people will never change no matter what you do. Indians need to learn their geography. A chapter on the North-East should be in the Indian education system. Some people have s*** inside their mind. Some people are here to spread hatred no matter what—right now they tease us, once the pandemic is over they will return to the topic of Hindu-Muslim.

The police state proponents. Punish them, beat them, name and shame them, arrest them, call them terrorist when they call you Chinese. These folks are perfectly suited to join the Uttar Pradesh police where all these tactics have been employed in recent months.

The math experts. Their every response is calculated. Seventy per cent of Indians are ch***** like these guys. For every one person who calls you names, I’m sure there are 10 who love you.

The mediocre poets and philosophers. They talk like the WhatsApp forwards you delete before reading: Coronavirus is temporary but viruses like these in society are permanent and harmful. Your voice is a soft furry sweater in this chilling cold. Common sense is not a gift, it’s a punishment because you have to deal with everyone who doesn’t have it. No beauty shines brighter than that of a good heart. Let’s fight against corona not each other. Giri huyi soch ka bazaar hai yahan bhai, kya khareedna hai logon ko gyan kam hai.

The dubious quality humourists. You should have coughed on them. Next time try wearing a black shirt, they will promote you by saying Xi Jinping. People do not need hand sanitizer, they need brain sanitizer. Please reply to them that you are Shaheen Bagh.

The reverse racists. As one person put it, “More unfortunate is that even those who face discrimination, discriminate." Sure enough, there were people who used this opportunity to air their own prejudices. These brown/black people have an inferior complex which ends up with them hating on fair skinned people. Let’s call them dogs or ebola.

Racism against those from the North-East is not new. As one person replied to Chang, “We have been fighting the same fight for as long as we can remember."

Yet this added burden of discrimination in a time when we are struggling to deal with a pandemic is a double whammy for the community. “This is a new low for us as Indians," says a petition introduced by Angellica Aribam on last week. “My friends, brothers, sisters, and I cannot fight this on our own any more. Facing discrimination in your own country is exhausting. We appeal to the government to take urgent action and speak up for us," says Aribam, the founder of Femme First Foundation, which works on the issue of women’s political leadership. We should speak up too.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.

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