Contagious diseases have a long history of racism linked to them. Their linkage to poverty and living conditions have also helped to deepen class prejudice. Even more damning is the naming of diseases after countries and communities. The Ebola outbreak in Africa, Asiatic flu and cholera, the bubonic plague, Middle East respiratory syndrome, have all been sufficiently racialized to lead to deep and widespread prejudice against certain groups of people.
The afflictions associated with HIV-AIDS, sometimes called the “Gay Plague,” have often been imagined as divine retribution against homosexuality. Mary Mallon, a figure from 18th century England, stands as one of the most infamous instances of malicious symbolism, in her vicious incarnation as “Typhoid Mary.”
Pandemics are also associated with migration and movement. Naturally, migrant populations are especially vulnerable to the violent prejudices brought about by the fear created by the pandemic. As international student movement starts to return to normal in Western nations, we face inevitable questions about the new predominant strain of the virus, the Delta variant – and its supposed country of origin, India.
Happily, it is no longer called the India variant as it was called in its initial days. Global conscience, sharp after then-President Donal Trump’s loud denunciation of “the China virus” ensured that the association of countries and communities with virus strains were nulled quickly. Language shapes memory, and one hopes this delinking of location and virus has helped. But as a slowly healing world – especially the West – faces a single dominant strain, what happens to students from the part of that world who go elsewhere to study?
India has been bruised and battered by internal prejudices against communities sharpened by the fear of the virus. There are endless stories of migrant workers being singled out, ostracized, and harassed by their local community members even after they have followed mandatory quarantine periods following their return. Frontline workers such as doctors and nurses have been targeted, many of them rendered homeless following their eviction by landlords, forced to sleep in staffrooms or washrooms of hospitals.
Source: Outlook India
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