Covid Tales from North East

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By: Sonal Sebastian

Pandemic struck Northeast India exacerbating it’s socio-political and economic vulnerability. The region comprised of seven sister states is known as the most volatile in South Asia. Pandemic outbreak exposed the devolopmental vaccums in region especially in the vital health sector. Initial status of the region vis a vis to Covid 19 cases was staggering. The region reported only 10 cases till June 10. Several factors both progressive and reggressive contributed to low numbers. Poor infrastructure festers the health sector and testing facilities are inadequate (11 testing centres for 7 states). Out of 476, only 11 medical colleges exist for the entire region. Low pace of devolopment in health sector throws the inhabitants to vile uncertainty and insecurity during pandemic. Unlike other states, the region maintains a mild isolation from outside world as major international airports and foreign connectivity is miniscule. vibrant community participation, ethnic division and restrictions (ethnic communities shielded their own jurisdiction from outside mingling) and lockdown discipline by citizens could successfully combat the breakneck attack of Covid in the initial stage. But, things started to change from the late June as the Covid cases leaped to 4 digits. In the pre-covid period , Northeast was simmering in anti-CAA protest. According to ACLEP, after the lockdown was announced, there is a 40% in protestation activity in northeastern region. But, in the midst of pandemic, about 320 demonstrations errupted out of lax handling Covid crisis. The demonstrators demanded financial assistance, increased supply of rations, better health infrastructure to fight pandemic and penury suffered by marginalized. The authority misused the lockdown provisions to target civilians. About 41 attacks against civilians by law enforcement agencies in the region. Many activists alleged that stringent lockdown and night curfew was imposed to conceal the transportation of construction materials for hydro-electric protest, against which some agitations originated. The state also sought to suppress the separatist groups like NSCN -IM during pandemic-induced lockdown. Many young people joined extremist groups to get rid of joblessness created by Covid clampdown. Besides political and economic deprivations experienced by region and citizens, racial stigma haunted the northeast citizens living in rest of India. In Delhi , man spat a northeastern women from Delhi calling her ‘corona’ citing physical proximity to Chinese people. Such acts are reprehensible in a inclusive democracy like India. Ergo, a pandemic exposed socio-economic, political and racial frailities of Northeastern region where the government should prioratize to shore up the region to mainstream in all parameters.

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