People from Northeast face racist slurs coronavirus lockdown

Several employed in service sectors like spas, beauty parlours and salons are unable to make ends meet

It’s not uncommon for 35-year-old Chongpi Kipgen to be called ‘coronavirus’ when she steps out for groceries in her neighbourhood in Ulwe, Navi Mumbai. Hailing from Manipur, she has noticed a rise in racist attacks and discrimination against people from the Northeast living in Mumbai, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Before the lockdown, they used to call us Nepali, chinki, momo or chowmein, but now they look at me and say, ‘Go corona’ or blame me for eating animals that caused the spread of the virus,” says Ms. Kipgen. During the lockdown, discrimination is widely encountered while grocery shopping, where people distance themselves from Ms. Kipgen or ask her to go to the end of the queue. “They make faces or shopkeepers tell me sarcastically to go home and that they will deliver the food to us,” she says.

Zohmangaihzuali Kuri, a 38-year-old model coordinator from Mizoram, who has been living in Mumbai for close to two decades, says that people from the Northeast are often confused with the Chinese and have to prove their Indian identity. “Even though Mumbai is a very safe city, people are treating us very differently,” says Leo Tharmi Raikhan, a 34-year-old resident of Kalina, Santacruz, who hails from Manipur.

Apart from racial discrimination, several people from the Northeast, especially from Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, work in the unorganised or service sectors like spas, salons, beauty parlours, restaurants or hotel, and are struggling to make ends meet. Ms. Kipgen, who works in a salon in Vashi, is dependent on the tips she gets from her customers, in addition to her salary. “In the salon or spa industry, we don’t make much money and now with no salary, we don’t know how to pay the rent or buy groceries,” she says. Ms. Kipgen has struck a deal with her landlord to cut the rent from her deposit money but has to pay the deficit in May.

Jangchon Lhouvum, chairman of Kuki Workship Service Mumbai, who moved to the city from Manipur, along with other community members like Mr. Raikhan are seeking help from the State government for people from the Northeast with basic grocery supplies and with a means to defer paying their rents.

“Before the lockdown, many of us managed to go back home, but now that’s not possible,” says Mr. Raikhan who downed shutters on his salon and spa in Kalina after the lockdown. He has been living in Mumbai for nearly two decades, and according to him, in Kalina alone there are close to 350 families from Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, and most stay in rental homes in Juhu, Vakola and Khar Danda. A member of the Tangkul Welfare Society, Mr. Raikhan is advocating for funds for the community.

“If we can’t be helped with groceries, I hope the government can arrange a way for us to go back to home,” says Ms. Kipgen. Unable to send any money home, the challenge for her is not only to survive the lockdown financially but also endure the growing discrimination because of her appearance.

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