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Coronavirus scare: North-east students at TISS allege racial discrimination

By Priyanka Sahoo, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON FEB 18, 2020 12:09 AM IST

Students from north-eas-tern states at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) have complained of racial discrimination in and around campus in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter to the institute and students on Monday, the Northeast Students’ Forum of TISS alleged racial profiling of some members of the forum as potential carriers of the virus (Covid-19), which originated in China, owing to their facial features.

“Many students from TISS have recently been subjected to racial treatment due to their distinctive identities and features,” the letter said. Asha Banu, dean, student affairs, confirmed that students approached her office to discuss the matter.

The letter stated one such instance, on February 10, when a student and her visiting friend, both from Nagaland, were subjected to “outright racial discrimination”. The forum alleged that a video of the visiting friend was filmed without consent and circulated on social media as an ‘alarm’ about a potential carrier of coronavirus from China. When the student confronted the makers of the video, they directed other slurs at her and threatened her, according to the forum.

The letter also said that students from north-eastern states have faced name-calling, such as “corona” and “coronavirus”. Around 200 of 2,900 students at TISS are from the north-east.

Condemning such discrimination across the country, the forum asked the institute’s administration to intervene and ensure the safety of students from the north-east.

“We would like to bring this matter to the notice of concerned authorities of TISS to adopt adequate measures to ensure safety of students from north-east who are vulnerable to racial discrimination. We request the general student body, faculty, and staff to deter any practices of casual and structural racism and promote a sensitive approach towards students. We also request the concerned government bodies to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of people from north-east states in Mumbai and to deter cases of harassment and racial discrimination,” read the letter.

“What happened with the student and her friend was unfortunate. As an interim measure, we are providing her with hostel accommodation,” said Banu, adding that the administration is mulling ways to spread awareness within the campus and in nearby areas. “We need to increase awareness about misinformation regarding the virus. At the same time we need to make people understand that name-calling and discrimination based on features are a form of structural racism, and must be avoided. We are looking at ways to do that.”

“This form of discrimination, played out in the pretext of health concerns, is a reminder of inherent racial prejudices and stereotyping of particular people, based on their physical features and perceived cultural inferiority,” a student said.

The novel coronavirus has so far claimed more than 1,770 lives. More than 71,000 cases have been recorded, most of which are in China. In the past few weeks, there have been allegations of racial profiling of people with Asian or ‘Mongoloid’ features across the world.

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