• Victor Mohan

The Coronavirus does not discriminate, people do.

A database of racist incidents against Asian Australians has received 178 responses in two weeks, as Queensland police also condemned a rise in anti-Asian racism during the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey, launched by community group Asian Australian Alliance, has received 12 reports a day since 2 April, ranging from racial slurs to physical assault. The majority of racist incidents were committed against women (62%) and 86.5% of in-person racist incidents were committed by strangers, according to the survey.

In one case, a 15-year-old girl was charged by police for allegedly punching a 26-year-old woman in the face in Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall after she accused her of having Covid-19. Queensland police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, said the true level of racist offences were being underreported and she encouraged more people to come forward to police. Of those surveyed, 147 of the incidents were in-person, 18 were online and 13 were “other”. Just over 60% of the self-reported incidents included racial slurs, 21% included verbal threats and 15% included physical intimidation such as being punched or shoved.

These incidents aren't isolated, however, racism has been a central, evolving issue since the COVID-19 outbreak began in December of 2019. Take the case of north-east Indians for instance. Since the outbreak, reports of such individuals being forced to vacate homes, face physical and verbal abuse have been circulating widely and yet show no signs of dying down. In fact, according to Rini Ralte, founder and president of Northeast Solidarty and manager of a helpline to help north-east Indians against such attacks, rumors of impending violence against migrants from the north-east sparked a mass exodus of them from cities such as Bangalore.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, northeasterners have been reporting a spike in racist attacks and discrimination.

“The phone continues to ring till today,” she is reported to have told The Caravan. The helpline gets roughly fifty calls a day, she is supposed to have said, from people facing racism or people stranded far from home and struggling to make ends meet. In one tragic case, on 30 March, a young man from Meghalaya working at a food court in Agra committed suicide after posting on social media that he had been fired, had nowhere to go and saw no hope. The government's response in tackling these issues leaves much to be desired. As a signatory of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, India is bound to enact laws specific to racism; yet, no such laws have even been tabled for discussion.

Government inaction in combating racism in these testing times is not specific to India. In the third week of March, 2020, US President Donald Trump received widespread criticism over his use of the term, 'Chinese virus' to describe SARS CoV-2. Ignorance bred by the use of such terms is dangerous. Just as the nomenclature, 'Ebola virus', which gets its name from a river near a Congolese village, led to the widespread ostracization of African-origin immigrants in the US and Europe and the nomenclature, 'Gay Virus' to describe HIV/AIDS, a disease with a higher prevalence among MSM individuals led to rampant violence against homosexual individuals in the 1990's the use of the term, 'Chinese virus' can potentially have a significantly negative impact on the approximately 17.3 million Asian Americans.

Protests against xenophobia among Chinese migrants

It’s not clear that anyone, anywhere in the world, can at this point reasonably claim exemption from the threat of COVID-19. Therefore, the rampant racially-charged finger-pointing which when exacerbated by the widespread government inaction around the world undermines the collective effort that’s essential to slowing the virus’s spread needs to end.

Change does not need to begin at the top, but sound guidance delivered by leaders who lead by example can go a long way in inducing change at the bottom.

French mural intended to denounce racism in the fight against COVID-19

Change does not need to begin at the top, but sound guidance delivered by leaders who lead by example can go a long way in inducing change at the bottom. In her book, Biss likens immunity to “a garden we tend together,” urging readers to acknowledge that we owe our health, in part, to one another. Overcoming a pandemic, let alone preventing it, requires a mutual interdependence that has to be spearheaded by the leaders of the world. As the crisis worsens in the weeks to come, it is imperative that global leaders take charge to dispel myths and implicit biases which are the core barriers to such interdependence.