By Shuvam Dewanjee
The novel Covid-19 virus is now a world-wide pandemic, as declared by the World Health Organisation. However, it would be wrong to think that people would act responsibly in all situations and tackle the disease to contain it. Reports of open and brazen racism have been received from around the globe, from Italy to the Republic of Korea, from the United States of America to India. People in positions of power, particularly those who lead those institutions, such as the President of the U.S.A., often and with visible disregard, has been calling the Covid-19 virus the ‘Chinese Virus’ while an employee of the White House has referred to it as the ‘Kung-Flu’. When questioned whether he realised that his comments were racist and would have considerable chances of putting Chinese-Americans at risk of harassment and even violent attacks, the President swiftly dismissed it saying he called it so since the virus came from China. According to Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a prominent scientist who is leading a government-appointed panel of experts to help control the coronavirus outbreak, said that even though the epidemic was first reported in China, it did not necessarily originate there.
Across the world, people of Mongoloid ethnicity, whether from China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, among others, have been subject to cases of harassment, online and up-front. In Japan, #ChineseDon’tComeToJapan trended on Twitter while in France, a local newspaper was criticised heavily for using the phrase “Yellow Alert” in its headline. Dilip Ghosh, the Bengal president of India’s ruling party, the BJP, alleged that “God had taken revenge against China” for China had destroyed nature. This statement was condemned by China’s Kolkata consulate who said in their statement, “We strongly condemn this ridiculous and irresponsible statement that is totally contrary to basic common sense”.
Even news channels don’t fall behind as evidenced by Don Luskin, a columnist, who implied on Fox Business that China was not a civilised country or that its people were uncivilised because of their culture, such as their food.
We, therefore, see how the Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to xenophobia and right-wing politics, with politicians and people in power assuming that in such troubled times, racism and prejudice are justified. This is strongly condemnable and must be called out as it is not far when these remarks shall turn into violence and, possibly, even pogroms.
The Covid-19 is a medical subject but it is also a political one. The people affected by the disease are not only at risk of failing health but also from people who think, in their profound stupidity, that xenophobia is of any help in such times. Time is most opportune to oppose and stop such right-wing forces —forces which fail to respond effectively to such a humanitarian crisis and, instead, propagate xenophobia and division of societies. Whether one is infected is irrelevant, people who are must realise that it is not just a personal problem but also a political one. The personal is the political and, if two people were infected and if one of them just happens to be of Asian ethnicity, must they be subject to more pain and suffering in the form of racist remarks from citizens, news channels and politicians? Absurd and Nonsense.
Everyone must act immediately to stop people from spreading such balderdash as it only exacerbates the problem; instead, people must ask their governments and fellow citizens to keep their composure and act responsibly as, in such desperate times, chaos, disinformation and panic are of no help.
Shuvam studies Sociology at Presidency University, Kolkata. He is a member of the Governing Body of the Liberal Association for Movement of People.