Thomas Isaac (Name Changed to protect his identity) is a healthcare worker of Indian origin.
He works in a busy public health setting in Melbourne.
Mr Isaac told The Australia Today, “One of my clients asked me, Are you carrying the India Variant, Did you come from India recently.”
“What do you expect me to say, I smiled and politely said, No. I understand his concerns but you know it feels a little racist.”
He is not alone in having to cope with such remarks.
Ravi Vijayratne is a Melbourne based IT consultant (Name and profession changed) of Sri Lankan origin.
His son goes to public school in a southeastern suburb of Melbourne.
He told The Australia Today, “My son was asked by one of his friends in the school, did you bring ‘Indian variant’ of coronavirus.”
Of course, we all Indian subcontinent people look alike and can be mistaken as the same. I am really concerned about this narrative paddled because this can really hurt, said Mr Vijayratne.
“I would say whosoever is calling it India variant is stupid”
But, Why this narrative of ‘India Variant‘ is taking shape in the community
Last year about the same time when COVID19 was reported a lot of concerns were raised about associating it with China or Wuhan city of China.
People of Asian origin were being targeted and called ‘Wuhan Virus’ on the streets of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
In January 2020, Dr Rhea Liang wrote about her experience on social media.
“Today my patient made jokes about not shaking my hand because of #coronavirus in front of my team. This is not sensible public health precautions. This is #racism.”
However, Australian Media, Politicians and Academics have not learned any lessons. This time around also Media outlets are the first to put it in their headlines.
The Guardian which is considered to be sensitive towards multicultural communities didn’t think twice before splashing the term India Covid variant in the headline.
This trend is followed by academicians.
Hassan Vally is an Associate Professor with the School of Psychology & Public Health at La Trobe University.
He told in a media statement, “The news of community transmission involving the Indian variant reinforces that the freedoms we have right now in Victoria and in Australia are built on precarious foundations, and things could change at any time.”
When questioned about the use of the term India Variant by The Australia Today Mr Vally said, “One of the difficulties in science communication is making sure that you are understood and that your communication does not involve too much jargon or technical language, and I think while most of the community are aware that more dangerous variants emerged in India not many would recognise what you are referring to when you refer to the B.1.617 variant. It’s a shorthand that allows you to communicate what you need to say as effectively as possible. Its similar logic for referring to the Brazilian variant and UK variant and South African variant.“
He categorically said that the use of any such terms will not have any detrimental effect on people of Indian origin.
“No, I actually don’t, just like I don’t think the use of the term the South African variant nor the Brazilian variant has any detrimental affects on people from these countries. I think people’s understanding of the pandemic and the way these variants emerge is sophisticated enough that this does not enter into the equation. No one has mentioned this issue previously to me and I haven’t seen any evidence of the presence of a variant that emerged in India being held against Indians. I only see a lot of compassion for the plight of India in the people that I have encountered.“
However, Mr Vally should realise the fact that things can really happen in the community without them being mentioned to him.
When questioned about the use of the term China Virus or Wuhan Virus by some he replied,
“I think this is an entirely different issue. There is certainly stigma associated with where a virus originally emerged that is quite different from the emergence of variants. The former had become politicised particularly given the strained relations between China and the US. Having said that I generally refer to original strain as the strain that emerged from Wuhan. So I think it is the way you refer to these variants that is important and not the use of the terms themselves that is the issue.“
Melbourne based Karthik Arasu wrote on a social media post, “Many Indian Australians are serving in the frontline battling this deadly virus, we are concerned about their safety for any backlash or hate, which the Chinese community faced last year across the world.”
Deputy leader of opposition Richard Marles a Labor MP in Australian Federal Parliament used the term ‘India Variant’ to describe the outbreak in Victoria.
This didn’t go well with the Indian Australian community.
Federation of Indian Australians released a statement asking Richard Marles not to associate the COVID19 virus variant with India or any other country.
“We are appalled and disappointed by the speech of Hon Richard Marles MP in the Parliament today mentioning it as an Indian variant and associating the Victoria Covid19 outbreak with Indian Australians.”
“We appeal to him to immediately withdraw his comments and delete the video of his speech in Parliament today with reference to the Indian variant, which he has shared on his social media platform. In the future, we request all the Members of the Parliament to be more considerate about the community and their wellbeing before making any irresponsible comments which will subject the community to backlash for no fault of their own,” read the statement.
Molina Swaroop Asthana is Co-Founder and Convenor of the Asian Australian Alliance.
She was a vocal advocate for Asian Australians when they faced discrimination last year.
Ms Asthana told The Australia Today, “Calling the strain an Indian variant is not necessarily racist on the face of it as other strains have previously been identified by the country’s name such as the US or Brazil.”
“However, it may have a discriminatory effect as Indians being a minority with different skin colour may be identified as such and also because of the perception created by the earlier India travel ban. If they had called it the Indian Virus, it would have been a different matter and it would have been discriminatory on the face of it too,” she added.
Earlier, the Government of India issued an urgent advisory to all social media platforms asking them to immediately remove any & every content that names, refers to or even implies ‘Indian variant’ of coronavirus as there is no such variant scientifically cited as such by World Health Organization.
World Health organisation have made a statement that virus or variants are not identified by the country they are first reported from.