It seems the Indian-Americans are becoming collateral damage of the so-called toolkit controversy highlighting the Indian government’s purported failures on the Covid front, among other allegations.
Apparently, this toolkit talks of the ‘Indian Variant’ (B.1.617 variant) of the virus that causes Covid-19. Even Congress MP Shashi Tharoor is believed to have used this term.
This so-called ‘Indian variant’ of the Covid (which the WHO has said to be wrong as this variant is seen in other parts of the world too) has raised apprehensions that after the people of Chinese origin, the Indian community will be the next target of rising hate crimes in the United States.
According to Manjusha Kulkarni, Indian American co-founder of ‘Stop AAPI Hate’ (a non-profit organization that runs the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center, which tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) and executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, she would not be surprised to see a backlash against Indian Americans as the term “India virus” makes its way into the US lexicon.
“The language and verbiage that’s being used create racial animus against individuals,” she has told the India-West newspaper.
The paper has reported how on Twitter, US and UK residents are blaming the “India virus” for another possible lockdown.
“If the cockwobble had closed the f*****g airports and stopped allowing people to fly in from India we wouldn’t have to listen to his s***. Just sounds like he’s going for another lockdown but blaming the India virus,” read one tweet, blaming UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for mishandling the pandemic.
“India triple mutant virus, your country and government suck. The whole world is recovering, but Indian virus are spreading out like crazy….Take the vaccine for f**k’s sake,” read another tweet.
“Public returning from India not following the quarantine rules are to blame for India virus reaching U.K,” read yet another tweet.
🚨The South Asian Journalists Association is advising news organizations against using the term “India variant” or “Indian variant” when describing the new strain of the Covid-19 virus that reportedly originated out of India.
Read more about our guidance below: pic.twitter.com/cqRxtzl7N2
— SAJA (@sajahq) May 7, 2021
Concern Over Safety Of Indian-Americans
The Indian community in the US is all the more worried now about its safety as increasing the American news sources like the Associated Press and the New York Times are loosely using the term “India virus”, rather than identifying the variant by its scientific name. So much so that the South Asian Journalists Association released a statement on May 7, advising reporters and media outlets against using the term “India variant” or “Indian variant”.
Kulkarni has revealed the particular incidents of hate crimes against the Indian-Americans in recent days in the states of New Hampshire, Washington, and California. So much so that according to her, South Asians have made up 1.8 percent of the cases that have been reported on the AAPI portal.
AAPI Hate’s research has revealed more than 6,600 anti-Asia hate-crime incidents against Asian-Americans over the course of roughly a year during the pandemic. The data, which includes incidents that occurred between March 19 of last year and February 28 of this year, shows that roughly 503 incidents took place in 2021 alone. And in all these attacks, women victims were 2.3 times more than men.
Verbal harassment and shunning were the most common types of discrimination, making up 68.1 percent and 20.5 percent of the reports respectively. The third most common category, physical assault, made up 11.1 percent of the total incidents.
More than a third of incidents occurred at businesses, the primary site of discrimination, while a quarter took place in public streets.
An Associated Press report on May 26 has also reported how the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that Asian-targeted hate crimes in the largest US cities rose 145% in 2020 compared with 2019, even though hate crimes overall declined 6%. And, in the first quarter of this year, anti-Asian crimes reported to police in 16 major cities and counties jumped 164% from the same time period last year.
Hate Crimes Against Chinese-Americans
Interestingly, Chinese Americans constitute the overwhelming majority of the hate crimes in the United States as far as Asian-Americans are concerned and the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened things for them. They are being targeted on suspicion of being the carrier of the virus that originated in China.
Examining the hate crimes in America’s largest cities in the year 2020, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino says that though such crimes in 2020 decreased overall by 7 percent, those targeting Asian people rose by nearly 150 percent.
The analysis, quoted by an NBC news report, revealed a surge in cities such as New York, where anti-Asian hate crimes rose from three in 2019 to 28 in 2020, an 833 percent increase. Los Angeles and Boston also experienced notable rises, from seven to 15 and six to 14, respectively.
This analysis also said that the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes occurred alongside a rise in Covid-19 cases and ongoing negative associations of Asian Americans with the virus.
‘Covid Hate Crimes’
Quoting another study, the NBC report says that the use of “China virus” language to refer to the coronavirus has already resulted in a shift in how many people in the US perceive Asian Americans. An increasing number of tweets about the “Wuhan virus,” which subsequently became the “China virus” was followed by a rapid reversal of a decade-long decline in anti-Asian bias.
Similarly, the BBC on May 21 carried a detailed report with case studies on how Covid ‘hate crimes’ against Asian Americans are on the rise. In fact, the report says how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had warned at the start of the Covid outbreak in the US that it expected a surge in hate crimes against those of Asian descent.
Given this trend, the “Indian-variant” slur could become really ominous.
Of course, there are other reasons for the anti-Asia bias in the US, but the trend was not seriously against the Indian-Americans as such, at least till recently. In fact, in a study by the FBI, it was said that between 2018 and 2019, hate crimes against Sikhs had declined 19 percent, from 60 to 49, against the overall 6.76 percent rise in crimes against Asians from 148 to 158.
According to this study, prejudice incidents targeting US AAPI populations by victim ethnicity between March 19 and December 31, 2020, were: Chinese 41 percent, Koreans 15 percent, Vietnamese 8 percent, Filipinos 7 percent – the rest 29 percent. Indian-American victims were really negligible.
But then, talks about the “Indian variant” or “Indian Virus” may now change the situation for worse if the example of the Chinese Americans for “China-virus” is any indication.
Of course, the reassuring development over the last fortnight has been the signing by President Joe Biden (May 21) the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that will now put a Justice Department official in charge of a review of anti-Asian hate crimes and will allot federal grants for law enforcement training and hate crime hotlines.