Amid the coronavirus scare, racism and prejudices have reared their ugly head in Kolkata.
While healthcare professionals, airlines’ crew and foreign returnees and their family members are facing social ostracism and worse from their neighbours, many from the North East and Darjeeling Hills with Mongoloid features have been the subject of racist slurs and attacks.
According to this report in The Times Of India, three male nurses working at the Salt Lake Hospital where Kolkata’s first Covid-19 positive patient passed away on Monday were served eviction notices by their landlord on Tuesday.
The male nurses told their landlord, who was accompanied by some locals, that they did not come in contact with the deceased patient. But that did not cut any ice with the tormentors.
The same news report said another male nurse had stopped sending his daughter for private tuitions once word got out about the Covid-19 positive patient being admitted to the hospital he was working in.
The hospital staffer said he took the decision after parents of other children going to the same tutor started asking uncomfortable questions. He said he did not want his young daughter to face any trauma.
Another nurse at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH), where eight confirmed Covid-19 positive cases are admitted was reportedly asked by her landlord to vacate her rented apartment last week. Doctors and medical students attached to three state-run medical colleges had complained recently that app cabs were boycotting them.
Kolkata Police also received many complaints from those who returned from foreign countries in recent weeks about harassment and ostracism being faced by them.
As the scare of the coronavirus spread, neighbourhood vigilante groups started hounding these foreign returnees and their families. Even those who were observing home isolation protocols very strictly were not spared.
At many places, police had to intervene and take away such people and their family members for tests and medical examinations. A young lady resident of a suburb of Kolkata who landed from Scotland was refused entry into her house and was forced to seek shelter at a state quarantine facility.
The family of a 57-year-old man who returned from Egypt and tested positive for the Covid-19 virus Tuesday is also having to face acute social ostracism. This, even though the family took him to the IDH immediately upon his return from Egypt for tests.
The family had to fight with the hospital authorities to get him admitted to the IDH after he displayed symptoms of coronavirus infection. His swab samples tested positive on Tuesday afternoon.
Sadly, the man’s septuagenarian mother who lives alone in another locality and who he never visited since his return from abroad has also been ostracised by her neighbours. Her caregivers have been forced out of the house and she is depending on food cooked by her tenants.
While many airlines’ crew have been facing harassment from neighbours and landlords, it was the harassment faced by a lady cabin crew member of a private airline that brought the issue to the fore.
The airline employee broke down while recounting the ordeal she was facing in a video clip she recorded and posted on twitter. A journalist then drew Kolkata Police Commissioner’s attention to it, prompting quick action by cops.
The lady said she and her mother were being barred from stepping out of their house in Behala in South Kolkata. Cops visited her house and spoke to her neighbours, warning them they would face legal action.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri expressed his “deep distress” over such harassment and ostracism.
Students and professionals hailing from the North East and the Darjeeling Hills and residing in Kolkata have faced far worse. There have been many reports like this of Northeasterners being subjected to racist slurs and mocked as ‘carriers of coronavirus’.
Such students of even premier institutions like the Jadavpur and Presidency Universities have reported abuses and name-calling. In many instances, police have registered complaints, but no action had been taken against the perpetrators of such shameful abuse.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
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