Course:ANTH302A/2020/India (Northeast)

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The Northeastern Region of India is a complex and well known region consisting of eight states: Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim (Northeast India Tourism, 2020)[1]. The region is known for vast plains and a large variety of plants and animals. The topography of the region includes a wide diversity of water bodies ranging from major rivers to watersheds which contribute to an agriculture based economy, likewise, it has high elevation elements such as the Eastern Himalaya mountains and the Northeastern Hills, as well as lower elevation features, for instance Brahmaputra and Barak valley plains[2]. Similarly, the climate of Northeast India falls within Köppen’s classification of sub-tropical humid, in addition, the area has Southwest and Northwest monsoonal circulation during such season[2]. The region shares a border with China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. It is recognized and both economically and socially developed by the North Eastern Council of India, constituted in 1971 (North Eastern Council, 2012)[3]. The Northeast is primarily Christian due to a past history of British colonialism through establishment of the East India Trading Company (Sinha, 2015)[4]. The following informational page will discuss the ways in which culture and religion have been affected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic with significant increases in violence towards certain religious communities, the alarming spike of racism towards North East Asians during the COVID-19 pandemic, the shut down of religious temples, and the use of natural medicine as a form of coping. As COVID-19 quickly emerged into countries, how a country prepares for themselves to fight against the virus was also important. If the preparation and processing were not enough, this may cause huge and irreparable damages, and will therefore lead to over panicking. This informational page will discuss what have the Assam government been facing during the pandemic when they were not preparing themselves enough when the virus quickly emerged, and how later, they started to get more familiar to the situations and provided help for their citizens during the lockdowns. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the ways people in Northeast India interact with each other. Moreover, it has established new social rules that seek to control contagion of the virus (such as quarantining and safe distance), however, in doing so, it has also created new connections and divisions between social groups. For this reason, a section of the wiki will discuss how the pandemic altered social synergies among the different ethnic groups of this particular region. This pandemic has also affected Northeast India's economic system. By looking at the ways it has done so in many sectors such as agriculture, trade, and tourism, this wiki will provide a glimpse as to how COVID-19 has altered India's economic backbone. In addition to all, a section of this page will summarize how much Northeast India has been impacted by Covid-19 and what the government has done to prevent the spread. The page will end with a positive note on how the limited anthropological activities contributes to the recovery of the natural environment in the Northeast India. From a region where the air quality was only moderate, the lockdown decreases the AQI by an average of 60%. The impact is also visible on the river system in the region where the resident can once again see the clean water that had been plaques by untreated sewage, garbage, and oil spoilage. The page aims to provide an overview how COVID-19 impacts the Northeast India as a whole. This yields an important insight to the anthropological and ethnographical studies.

Changes in Cultural and Religious Practices (Olivia Stedman)

Holi Festival India (2014)

The unique Christian and Muslim majority background of Northeast India is a major factor which promoted change in the religious and cultural aspects and practices of the region throughout the COVID-19 pandemic[5]. According to the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India (2011)[6], approximately 80% of the entire Indian population practices Hinduism, followed by 13% practicing Islamism, 2% practicing Christianity, and less than or close to 2% practicing Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. However, in the region of  Northeast India, which consists of eight states, namely Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim (Northeast India Tourism, 2020)[7], the most widely practiced religion is Christianity, followed by a large Muslim population in comparison to the rest of India. This religious assimilation is credited with the establishment of the East India Trading Company following the British Administration of the region in the early 1800s (Sinha, 2015)[4], as ensued further on.

Since the early 19th century, the many religions of India formed their most powerful spiritual connections through the worshipping of Gods at the temples, churches, mosques, and synagogues. Through this shift to using temples as a way to strengthen bonds, “this marked the beginning of a new religious focus...that emphasized a direct...emotional connection between worshipers and the gods they loved'' (Mines, Lamb 2010, p. 220)[8]. The use of the temple as a bonding mechanism between life on earth and thereafter became a necessary part of daily life that has lived on until the present. However, this oneness that has been promoted over the years is hardly the truth. Muslim identifying individuals in India have for centuries been deemed as “impure...heretic...and a source of contamination” (Mayaram, 2003, p. 20)[9]. The violence and discrimination against this religious group has never slowed down and the current rise of COVID-19 in the Indian nation has aggravated this issue[10]. Moreover, perhaps the large muslim migration to the Northeast of India is in part due to the region’s colonial past, as is explored further on, the Northeast was colonized in the early 1800s by the East India Trading Company. According to Sökefeld (2005)[11] “systems of colonization inscribe their marks so deeply” that “they cannot simply be eradicated by the political act of declaring independence,” however, before the dissolve of the British takeover, the better part of the region was syncretized to Christianity. The initial syncretism planted roots and has seen no shift. Due to this large Christian population in the Northeast, it is understandable that Muslims who are widely oppressed in other regions of India would find safe haven among the states in the Northeast. These impacts of the past bind together to form a unique but powerful shift in the way that religion and culture are viewed, practiced, and honoured in Northeastern India.

Recent years have seen an increase in discrimination against Islam-practicing Indians. This segregation stems primarily from the results of the 2014 election of the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); this is due to a long-standing stigma that Muslims in India are all illegal immigrants seeking protection. In India, Islam is not a protected religion. This means that they can be subject to deportation, arrest, and physical abuse without legitimate reason upon failure to prove their abstinence from the practice of Islam (Human Rights Watch, 2020)[12]. With discrimination against the Muslim community having been endorsed by the Indian governmental system, the rise of COVID-19 in India was supplemented by a rise in attacks against the Muslim population. This form of religious scapegoating resulted in the blaming of all Indians of Muslim descent as the initial cause for the spread of the virus, the deaths of family members, and the postponement of sacred holidays and religious practices. This discrimination is minimal in the Northeast due to the fact that the primary religion is Christianity, which in turn resulted in mass migrations of Muslim-identifying individuals to the Northeast, specifically to the state of Assam, as seen with past migration as well.

Further, the Northeastern region is known for widely using Ayurvedic Medicine, a cultural practice over 5000 years old which uses pseudoscience, a particular lifestyle involving massage, meditation, yoga, and whole food eating, as well as a holistic mindset to claim cures for improved and maintained health (Health Link BC, 2018)[13]. As COVID-19 continues to spread, a hike in sales of Ayurvedic Medicine has occurred mainly in the Northeastern region, especially since the main networks of Ayurvedic Medicine are based in Northeast India[14]. As Indians scramble to find ways to ward off the virus and protect themselves and their families the government has taken strict precautions, and has consistently reported that the use of Ayurvedic medicine will not protect from the virus and may only aid in improving one's overall immune system strength, this is troublesome due to the fact that citizens more likely are choosing to follow Ayurvedic medicine practices that they have known for years rather than follow new and unique shifts in daily life as recommended by the government[15]

As the people of the Northeast region are told to remain indoors and not leave for any purpose, especially for religious gatherings due to the gatherings being labeled as a “hotbed” for viral spread, the government implores that citizens find alternative ways to honour their beliefs from the comfort of their homes (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020)[16]. In certain areas of India, however, specifically where Hinduism is highly practiced, thousands of people gathered to celebrate Holi in early March (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020)[16], the prime minister warned that people should refrain from attending and he himself publicly declared that he would not be partaking in the celebration in 2020, the celebration still went on with thousand of people gathering, some wearing masks. (CNN, 2020)[17]. For the residents of the Northeast, Christianity is typically centered around close contact from communion and hand holding during prayer, the population in the Northeast have been recommended to avoid hand holding, and touching, even with family members and if having the resources necessary, to watch live streams of religious ceremonies rather than attending temples and synagogues.

Through time the Northeast strengthened their religious righteousness through the use of temples, the use of Ayurvedic medicine, and through the acception of Muslim migration to the region. As COVID-19 transformed the ways in which these practices could be done, Northeastern Indians embraced the use of family, and in certain cases technology to move forth with their faith as religious places of worship are shut down. The Indian government continues to shun the idea of Ayurvedic medicine as a legitimate cure for the Coronavirus, and now more than ever, Muslims are blamed for the spread of the virus through uses of violence, deportation when housing is needed more than ever, and even murder. It could be said that the virus has strengthened familial religious bonds, but has divided the nation and its diverse religious groups in a way that is more menacing than it may ever be.

The Spike in Racism against North East Indians during COVID-19 (Parmeet Dhillon)

The COVID-19 pandemic has become highly racialized due to the origin of the virus and has led to a heavy stigma placed on those who look Asian. This issue is particularly relevant to North East Indians as they are facing racist and derogatory comments due to their appearance in which they possess a more “Asian” look. Such judgements were unconcealed acts of racial bigotry that predominantly stems from the nonrecognition or misrecognition of Northeast Indians, who are primarily a mongoloid race, as Indians. This discrimination is “allowed” by the absence of strict anti-racism laws that permit bigots to act without consequences. However, such actions are best understood on the systematic elements that build Indian societies. The legal measures to address this social problem will reduce overt acts of racism but addressing racial acts, which are structural in nature, is incredibly essential to building a more anti-racist, united nation.

People from the Northeast have come under repeated racial attacks since the coronavirus outbreak in India

As the coronavirus epidemic in China worsened and spread internationally, there was an alarming rise in racism and prejudice against Asian looking people in some of these countries. This rise was not unfamiliar in India, which is home to a demographic of Indians that carry more Asian-like features. Only a week after the lockdown, racial incidents against Northeast Indians were also gradually reported. A study directed by the North-East Support Centre & Helpline in 2011 on North-East Migration and Challenges in National Cities reported that 86% of North-East people in 2009–2010 said they faced racism in metro cities of India. Unfortunately, while racism was not unknown to North East Indians before, it gradually increased with the novel pandemic[18]. In fact, while the government had to make calling North-East people ‘chinki’ a punishable offense because it was used as a derogatory term to insult them, racism against North East Indians has become hard to control as name-calling is often the norm [19]. Cases regarding racist incidents involved being called names to being spat on a public road, all because of the way they looked. In Delhi, A Manipuri woman was spat on from a man on a bike, “before calling out “Chinese coronavirus coming” and fleeing the place”[20]. Adding on, two Northeast Indian women were called Coronavirus and hit with water balloons on Delhi’s university North campus. In Pune, a professional from Mizoram was disgraced by another shopper in a mall sometime in the first week of March [21]. When the shopper drew closer to her, “she covered her face with a cloth and when asked why, she started shouting, claiming she could be carrying Covid-19 and could infect her”[22]. Moreover, Rinzin Dorjee and his daughter, Tsering Yangzom, were actually not allowed into their apartment complex in March as the building’s administration said they were infected with coronavirus. However, Yangzom had even shown them medical documents but the building administrators did not care[23].

To fight against the spike in racism towards them, many from the North-East are posting videos on social media and protesting, saying that “at a time when the entire world is joining forces in the fight against the coronavirus, discrimination against them is unfortunate”. Social media has become a weaponry tool to challenge racists and become a site of resistance and protest. Some have uploaded videos on Instagram and TikTok, spreading awareness and education whilst trying to challenge the racism that erodes India today. Videos are being taken of racists in their attacks to expose them for their discriminatory attacks. Additionally, an online campaign utilizing hashtags were started with social media in order to create awareness, educate and protest against the ongoing discrimination against them. These campaigns used hashtags such as #IamIndian, #IamNotCoronavirus and #NoToDiscriminationAgainstNortheastIndians[24]. Furthermore, a petition, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to condemn racial attacks on Northeast Indians and create anti-racist policies was started in Change.org [25]. Some celebrities also started shedding a much-needed spotlight on the racism against North East Indians: the Indian Women’s Football Team tweeted ‘We’re taking a break from #WindingTheClockdown to address an important issue. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen several attacks on North-Eastern Indians. There is never an excuse from racism. Let’s stand united and #DistanceTheHate. #HerGameTo” [26].

On the contrary, most of India’s famous have been criticized as news on racist attacks on North East Indians has been muted for the most part. During times such as now with the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has pushed aside confronting racism as non-essential, although racist attacks against North East Indians, Muslims and other minorities have been rising at an alarming rate. In fact, even the Constitution does not overtly have laws protecting people against racism. While the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an advisory for all states to take appropriate legal action against people passing racial slurs and harassing other citizens, not enough is still being done. The racism in India stems from systematic and deep-rooted prejudices and stereotypes. In order to combat the racism, India needs to acknowledge its problem and spread awareness about bigotry. This also, relates to a quote from Aftershock: “Serious rebuilding of the country’s physical and political infrastructure will take more time and attention than capricious media outlets and donors are usually willing to devote.” [27] The non-acknowledgement of the structural nature of racism exposes the complicity of the Indian state and allows for more prejudice to strike as there are no penalties.Moreover, the study of racism in India needs to be expanded and more inclusive by targeting the root and structural foundations of racism in the nation. Overall, there needs to be a more progressive and proactive effort to rectify and intensify the legal framework against racism in India.

COVID-19's Effects on Northeast India's Economy (Yasmine Havlin)

Farming in Northeast India

As the COVID-19 pandemic has caused economies to suffer worldwide, regions and states in Northeast India have also been negatively impacted. Northeast India is comprised of many states of which include Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. Each state is following safety measures, and the number of new reported cases have been trending downwards. Unfortunately, economic trends have also been in downfall.  Under prime minister Narendra Modi, lockdown commenced March 24, 2020. Since the end of lockdown (May 3 2020 for certain states), India’s economy and employment levels have struggled to recover; particularly in industries such as agriculture, tourism, and connectivity[28]. The first COVID case in Northeast India was reported on March 24 March 2020. In Manipur, a 23 years old student tested positive after returning from the UK [28]. The detection of the first case correlates with the following job loss of about 12.2 crore in the month of April alone[28]. This spike in unemployment mirrors the decline of Northeast India’s economy. Although the arrival of the British brought social and economic structure to India[29] since then, India’s economy has been (with a few minor exceptions) on a rise. COVID-19 has been a pandemic that has not only effected economies around the world, but even the small ever-growing economy of Northeast India.

The Northeastern States of India share borders with many Southeast Asian countries[30] . These regions act as a bridge between India and its neighbours, giving them elevated importance due to their role in the movement of people and goods across borders. Since the pandemic, the interconnectedness between these regions has come to a halt. This affects the lack of economic growth in Northeast India because of the freezes in both trade and tourism[30].  Investments held in regions of Southeast Asian, as well as China, have been threatened by the pandemic specifically due to border closures. This has diminished opportunities for conversations and partnerships about current and future investments[30]. This means that strengthening the economic system in this region may also prove to be beneficial in terms of greater international connectivity, trade, and potential future investments[30]. Thus, it is crucial for Northeast India to be the catalyst for India’s future economic growth, especially with the Southeast Asian markets[30].Trade is key aspect in the prosperity of not only an individual’s economic future, but groups of people as well. Similar to the concept of “earning", in Shahs’ ethnography Nightmarch, this idea of “to earn” is used as a way in which individuals can pocket money for personal use away from common needs[31]. This type of dynamic between the Naxalites and the people who pay them for safety, land use, etc. is very important to the success of their financial livelihood[31]. Similarly, trade is just as important to Northeast India’s financial success. This concept of earning not only supports the villagers in Nightmarch, but also the large and local business owners of Northeast’s India’s marketplaces.

This analytical framework used to explain economic success can also be translated into how political visibility in the region may or may not necessarily increase overall awareness of social and economic upward mobility[32]. Shah’s and Shneiderman’s article, “The practices, policies, and politics of transforming inequality in South Asia: Ethnographies of affirmative action,” mentions how lower caste groups, the Dalits in this case, do not benefit from any political or institutional representation[32]. Thus, it brings to question if brought to the forefront, willl visibility of Northeast India’s economic system in any way help them, i.e. how ill other governments contribute to the recovery of their economy?

Complimenting trade, an industry of significant importance that has been affected by the pandemic is agriculture. Negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic were especially detrimental due to the timing of the disease lining up with Northeast India’s harvesting season[28]. As a consequence of lockdown and heightened unemployment levels, many crops went unharvested, leaving the market with low stocks of agricultural product. The economic downturn in the agriculture industry reflected on rural communities. Initial topplings of rural economies triggered a domino effect in which a decline began of Northeast India’s overall economic growth. Surprisingly, while COVID-19 devastated agriculture in these regions, other side effects such as lower pollution rates proved beneficial as environmental conditions have improved. Following the worst of the pandemic, India’s monsoon season has had a positive effect on the recovery of agriculture. As a consequence of a 15% increase in rainfall, rural India has seen a surge in crop yields (Northeast India) that have in turn set up urban India for economic recovery within this sector[33].

Northeast India is heavily reliant on tourism as a source of economic growth[28]. Last year, Northeast India saw an estimated growth in tourism by 10-12%[30]. With border closures and due to Northeast India’s lack of connectedness within itself, other regions of Asia, and international airports, tourism has seen a harsh decline. Although the tourism industry has negatively impacted Northeast India’s economic system, the unintended isolation of these regions has aided in protecting them from the initial surge of the pandemic[30]. However lack of tourism has particularly devastated the Region of Sikkim, a region in close proximity to Assam[28]. This area relies heavily on tourism as its main source of economic prosperity, with an average of 20 million tourists visit the state yearly[28]. The loss of around Rs 100 million in revenue so far can be directly attributed to COVID-19[30].

Northeast India’s high unemployment rates have heightened economic loss[28]. As dictated by lockdown, all nonessential businesses have been closed. These include shopping malls, restaurants, market places, hotels, etc. [28]. Post lockdown, unemployment rates have been trending downwards though not low enough for a recovering economy[33]. Progress however has been significant, in May of this year, unemployment rates stood at around 29.22%, and have since dropped to as low as 7.26%[33]. Although Northeast India as a whole is seeing a positive change in this department, many individual business and wage earners are financially struggling. Outside of Northeast India as a unit, the unemployment levels have severely impacted the prosperity of the population. The suffering is most detrimental to those in the age group of 20yrs-30yrs [28]. In April alone, 27 million youths lost their jobs in most part as a result of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has ravaged its way throughout India taking no prisoners, impacting urban centres as well as the most rural of areas. Although India has had a very large number of cases within the last few months, the Northeast has taken many precautions to prevent the spread of outbreaks into their regions [28]. The curve is beginning to flatten as the situation is slowly getting under control, but without a strong economy, the backbone needed to rebuild society pre-covid is missing[33]. Northeast India has the potential to be the catalyst for India’s economic recovery[30]. The effects the pandemic has had on this region economically has been able to illustrate what in turn would happen to the rest of India. Having said this, one can assume that the positive trends in Northeast India will soon be observable in other regions as well.  The recovery of the northeast (with nearly 0 cases in some areas) is an achievement states are striving for worldwide. However, steps still need to be taken in order to move towards a stronger and more prosperous economic future. COVID-19 has brought global devastation, but there is an educational aspect when we take the time to learn from how other countries and cultures have responded to the virus. Understanding each other during unprecedented times such as these, is important for valuable responses to future and present matters, as well as the progression of society as a whole.

Preparedness and Processing of Lockdowns - Assam (Mandy Zhu)

Assam Regions.png

Assam is a state of the Northeast part of India. It has an area of seventy-eight thousand four hundred and thirty-eight square kilometer, and about a population of thirty-one million, one hundred and sixty-nine thousand two hundred and seventy-two (date in 2011).[34] Its name “Assam”, according to the “Know India” government website, has two kinds of definition, one is by some scholars who believed it came from the Sanskrit word ‘Asoma’ meaning peerless and unparalleled; and the another definition which were widely accepted was that it came from the original name of the ‘Ahoms’ ( a group of people who ruled the land for six hundreds of years before the British annex it).[35] “Shared languages and ethnic groups, as well as a great deal of cross-border migration between…” [36] The language that the people speak in Assam were ‘Assamese’. Assam is located in the Northeastern peak districts in India, neighboring with China, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. Agriculture plays a big role in Assam’s economic development, where one of the most important industries were tea productions. Due to high productions of tea, Assam becomes the world’s largest tea production area. Other agriculture which were also important to Assam’s economy includes: Silk (Muga silk, produced in Assam only), jute, oilseeds, and fruit plantations (orange, banana, mango etc.…).[37]

In January 5th, 2020, WHO (World Health Organization) announce the “First Disease Outbreak News” report, to inform the Member states about the new COVID-19 virus of the number of cases and clinical status of the virus to advised the Member States to take precautions and preparations to reduce the risks of infections[38]. But it was not until March 23rd, 2020, Assam imposed total lockdowns[39]. In March 27th, 2020, the largest city of Assam, Guwahati, was reported that on the same date, hundreds of people gather at a massive temporary vegetable market opened by the civil administration.[40] This shows that the people and the local government did not put too much effort to follow the guidelines of how to protect themselves from cross infections, and take the safety procedures. “Nepal is referred to as a failed state and a country without local government, unable to create broad-based consensus on its constitution and riven with corruption.” [41] Although Guwahati has its own local government, but it doe not seems like the government is providing enough knowledge about how serious the virus is to its people, which can cause unpredictable damages and deaths to their cities. Another news came up the next day on March 28, where it was reported that the Assam Police fired in the air at the meat and poultry market where there was a massive gathering of people who defying the lockdown guidelines. [42]“Yet with the 1934 earthquake a distant memory, Nepali citizens, the national government, and the international institutions seemed more focused on immediate concerns” [43] Especially due to lockdowns, the Tea gardens were shuts down to prevent infections, where over twenty lakh permanent and temporary workers are working for the tea gardens[44], if tea gardens remain open, it is afraid that it will cause huge amount of infected cases. This causes huge economic damage for the Assamese whose economy based hugely upon tea productions. But if preparations were set-out earlier as the WHO have announced the “First Disease Outbreak News”, everything would have been gone out better. As the news on June 19 reported, lockdowns help prevent new cases, and improve recovery rates, therefore also helps the government to have more time to prepare themselves for the next circulation and reinforce their health infrastructure[45]. After several weeks of lockdowns, the people seem to get more familiar with what is happening right now. As for preparations, due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, students were not able to attend schools for educations, and examinations, the Assam Government prepared lessons through YouTube, therefore, students can remain their classes through online format, and also take their exams online. [46]

Due to COVID-19 lockdowns, farmers are facing unbearable losses due to not being able to transport their goods, which also affects the people who need to store up foods for the lockdowns, the Assam State Agricultural Marketing Board provided supports to help in the transportation of goods. Even with those farmers who were not part of the marketing loop, the government still provided supports.[47] “Providing food for displaced people is an immediate and ongoing priority in relief work.” [48] Not just for lockdowns but also for any other disasters, food supplies were the most important things that needs to be solve, this not just help people from starving, but it also helps people mentally of not being overstress of ‘how to survive from the situation” which prevents people from getting mental breakdowns. With the interventions of the government, these farm products were able to sell through both road and rail routes, and the government also provided helpline numbers to the vendors in case of difficulties in inter-state transportation.[49]

Another types of supports that the Assam state have provided for its citizens were psychological support. Where the authority provided volunteer-led call centre to support people who are might be emotionally ill, or have being stressful while being quarantine at home.[50] A day after the complete lock downs in Assam, March 24th, a news reported that the Assam government were mulling 4.5 million financial aid for needy family if lockdown period extends.[51] While on April 20, another news reported that massive funding is in urgent need to provide for not just the citizens who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, but also for the health supplies, and other funding. [52] Only after a month after the lockdown, the government have already announced the need to money refill also shows that they were not preparing earlier enough for this pandemic to come.

As COVID-19 reaches to Assam, damages were irreparable due to unprepared and underestimating the situation. Though as experiences were gaining, both the governments and people started to get more familiar with it, and cooperating with each other to have the pandemic to take control. During the most difficult times, the government provided supports for the food supplies, medical supplies and financial supports and also provided online classes for the students who have been out of school due to the pandemic. This not just helps reduce the panic of the citizens, but also prevents them to get emotional illnesses which they may easily get infected during the pandemic.

Update and Government's response to COVID-19 in Northeast India (Kiran Sahota)

Northeast India

Update on Cases as of August 19, 2020 (The number of cases were obtained through COVID-19 tracker on Google)

State Cases Recovered Deaths
Arunachal Pradesh 2875 1949 5
Assam 82201 58294 203
Manipur 4765 2789 18
Meghalaya 1457 685 6
Mizoram 860 379 0
Nagaland 3520 1664 8
Tripura 7645 5497 65
Sikkim 1207 755 2

Some restrictions implemented by the government[53].

  • Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya: the government had a 5:00 am to 10:00 pm curfew until July 31. They banned public transportation. Only the places that are considered essential were allowed to only operate with the minimum amount of workers required. People were told to stay home and use delivery services to help prevent the spread.  
  • Assam: There was a curfew set from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. They closed down all religious sites and dine-in restaurants. Public transportation has been suspended for now. Places that sell essential goods are open and roadside shops are only allowed to operate every other day with only a few staff.
  • Manipur: A curfew from 5:00 am to 6:00 pm was in place for the month of July. Almost all non-essential workplaces were closed. Some major shops were open every second day until 6 pm. Public transportation was still running but was limited.
  • Mizoram: a curfew from 4:00 am to 7:30 pm was set in place. Every non-essential place was closed on Sunday but open throughout the week. Social distancing rules were implemented where businesses were open. The government now keeping an eye on the cases and may move to stricter rules in places if cases increase.
  • Nagaland: A curfew from 6 am to 5 pm was in place. Essential businesses were allowed to be open from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. Only cargo vehicles and those with emergencies were allowed to enter or leave Nagaland.
  • Sikkim: Curfew from 5:00 am to 9:00 pm was in place. Only those with emergencies or for essential reasons were allowed to enter and leave the state. There were certain checkpoints which were being used. Every nonessential thing was banned.
  • Tripura: There is a curfew from 5:00 am to 9:00 pm and everything was closed on Sundays. No non-essential work was allowed. People were only allowed to be out during curfew for only emergencies or essential work. Only a limited amount of public transportation was running.

Government's Response:

Northeast India has been quite lucky compared to the rest of India. They have not had to deal with as many cases or deaths related to COVID-19 despite an average health care system. The government has put some restrictions to help prevent the spread; this has been successful because “by tradition and by lifestyle, people of [the] northeastern region are civilized and disciplined. [This] is why they could very easily follow the lock-down guidelines. There has been no problem in ensuring implementation of the lock-down-related guidelines there.”[54]

The reason why those is Northeast India have been successful in following these guidelines presented by their respected government may have to do with their “Jati or class [which] defines a context, a structure of relevance, a rule of permissible combination, a frame of reference meta-communication of what is and can be done.”[55] This may have made residents in these areas more submissive. Both Uma Narayan and  A.K. Ramanujan have mentioned in their papers how being Indian has a lot to do with following “caste values and practices that pertained to specific privileged groups within the community as values of the "Culture" as a whole."[56] So, everyone following guidelines without problems may be a result of being part of a culture that was not as privileged.

But despite the people following the restrictions, there still have been cases of COVID-19 in the northeast. It seems that those cases are being spread from the paramilitary forces and entering northeast India. Fortunately, for the people in Northeast India, the government is doing all it can to help. Mizoram’s government “imposed a ban on the entry of the security forces personnel to the state until August 15."[57] Other states like Arunachal Pradesh who border different countries are unable to ban the forces. These government has decided to take another approach in which they “are conducting rapid antigen detection (RAD) tests of all [the] security personnel, who [are] entering the state."[57] The government is taking the pandemic seriously and doing all the can to help prevent the spread.

Those in charge of Northeast India, seem to be taking a very different approach than other parts of India. They seem to care more about the people living there than their own agendas. For example, in Kashmir, the government decided to ignore the UN and continue with the war against Pakistan. Due to "the exchange of cross-border fire, families are forced to take shelter in community bunkers. These are small enclosed spaces that make social distancing practices impossible to follow”[58]. This may just be one of the many reasons why northeast India has a fewer number of cases. The government is doing everything it can to get people to follow the social distancing rules unlike in places like Kashmir, where people are forced to put themselves at risk.

Theory To Immunity

India ranks high when looking at how it has been affected by COVID-19 compared to other places around the world. Fortunately for Northeast India, they have not been as impacted. The number of cases within the Northeast states (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura) have stayed relatively low compared to the rest of India. The number of low cases has sparked the interest of many. resulting in many theorizes on how this is possible. “The Director of Health and Family Welfare of Mizoram”[59], H Lalchungnunga and other health officials believes that Hydroxychloroquine may have something to do with it. Hydroxychloroquine is taken by many to help with malaria and a lot of doctors in Northeast prescribe it for fevers. So, some have theorized that the “excessive consumption of hydroxychloroquine could be the reason why people of the Northeast seem to be displaying higher immunity to COVID-19.”[59]  Other scientists argue that the low number of cases may have more to so with things like “geography, weather and biological responses that influence R0 of a virus so it’s possible that the virus will not behave exactly the same way across regions.”

Difficulities of low caste (Yuzhu Fang)

Offering to SUN.jpg

During COVID-19 pandemic, most countries lockdown communities to ensure citizens’ safety. In response to the outbreak, the Indian government shut down many different sectors of business including manufacturing, service, and construction industries. As a result of the job market impact, the low caste group experienced even greater difficulties in terms of making a living. Moreover, it is even more challenging to pull through the pandemic without money and access to proper health care. Lastly, the gap between the low caste group and the high

caste is further widened even after COVID-19.

  • Background

The caste system is the hierarchy of Hinduism, which is the most typical and strict system around the whole world. It has been around for more than 3000 years, hence it was deeply ingrained within the identity of Hindus [60].  Although, the government had abolished caste system since India announced its independence from British colonization, caste discrimination did not disappear, nor had it been improved [61]. Caste system depends on birth or blood , which implies that low caste would never have a chance to rise their social status. Higher caste controls the majority sources of economy and polity, while the low caste is responsible for humble jobs. The lower caste cannot receive quality education or participate in political actions. More than this, low caste is exploited by the high caste, and they will be abandoned by the government when facing great disasters. For example, lower caste sufferers did not get help during the earthquake relief operation in Nepal [62].

  • NO Income

Jobs are regarded as ritual duty for the lower caste to provide cheap labour,such as industrial workers, cleaners, waiters, maids and so on. However, during COVID-19 lockdown, low caste people lost their income because of the drastic decline in Indian economy and the increase in unemployment. Over the first two months, the average weekly income of the lower caste showed a dramatic decrease of nearly 60 percent [63]. As time goes by, this situation  worsened, nine out of ten volunteers said that they had zero income in May [64].  Without money, lower caste people cannot purchase food and water, which are daily necessities. Shortage of facial masks and medical supplies make the death rate among low caste increase considerably over time.

  • No assistance

Supplement for the low caste from the government was not distributed. Some cities do not establish safety protocols to ensure the survival of low caste group during lockdown. Financial statements of most states in India are static, under this circumstance, basic supplies and medical facilities are provided to the upper caste with higher priority. This is an exact mirror image if what happened during the earthquake relief operation in Nepal, the low caste is abandoned by the nation. What is more, the higher caste monopolized 50% of India’s national income, thus many people of low caste have to borrow money for daily expenses from the upper caste with interest [65]. But the higher caste refused to lend money to them even with interest during lockdown, which intensified the difficulties of the lower caste.

  • Caste Atrocity

In order to guarantee supplement for the higher caste and economy’s normal operation, many states are extending the legal working period to 12 hours disregarding the safety of the workers, what is more terrifying is that the workers are paid with reduced wages [66]. These low caste workers were forced to keep staying inside factories, “It feels like we have been locked up in Jail.”[67] The reason to detain these workers inside the structures is to prevent them from escaping due to huge and tiring work as well as low wages; on the other hand, it is hard to ensure the workers are not infected by COVID-19. Therefore, staying inside the factories would be the best solution.After the lockdown is announced, all migrant workers (workers from other states in India) went back to their homeland. However, sixteen migrant workers were killed by a cargo train which ran over them while they were sleeping on the tracks in Maharanshtra’s Aurangabad [68]. The lack of measures that help lower caste migrant workers go back home caused this tragedy.

  • Future Condition of the low caste

The caste discrimination is a problem which lasted quite a long time. As mentioned above, the caste system is the hierarchy of Hinduism, while Hinduism is the major religion of India. So the traditional religious culture need to be changed first if people want to change the situation of caste discrimination.  The low caste cannot receive education and other skill training, which results in the upper caste remaining in control of  major finances and keeping exploiting lower caste. During COVID-19 lockdown, caste discrimination become clearer and the oppression to the low caste even worse. Decreased income and health level expanded the gap between upper and lower caste. Once the lockdown stops and social operations are running normally, the low caste still face financial problems, which will be worse before the lockdown. Because they have no money and medical support during lockdown, it is hard to say that their physical health levels are as normal, so this epidemic can be long term damage for them. Last but not least, due to loss of jobs during lockdown, the low caste will be more marginalized in India’s social order, then their future living conditions will be more terrible [69].

Caste discrimination caused a series of problem in India, lack of electricity, low economic situation, and high death rate. These problems can be solved once the low caste gain the same treatment with the high caste. After solving this problem, letting India become a world-industry may not be impossible. 

Figure 1. Traditional attires belonging to the various tribes that live in Northeast India

Implications of COVID-19 on social synergies of Northeast India (Yunuhen Moguel Gallegos)

According to Aijazi, “disasters are lived, experienced, and embodied in multiple ways [70].” In Northeast India, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has prompted unfamiliar modalities of social interactions. Subsequently, locals are currently striving to maintain meaningful connections through unconventional ways. Hence, there are multiple different forms in which the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced social synergies in Northeast India, thus, it is undeniably crucial that they are discussed in further detail. The social dynamics in this region are of great importance considering that it is home to various tribes (Figure 1.), such as the Naga , who have been negotiating with New Dehli for over half a century in order to be granted a special status for Naga people within India[71] . Therefore, the constant conflicts between the government and the different ethnic groups portray a troublesome image of the region of Northeast India.

As claimed in Stirrat’s work, immediate response to adversities seems to come from local and neighboring communities—particularly from civilians—rather than from the government or outsiders[72]. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the following community-motivated precautionary measures can be used to illustrate Stirrat’s statement. The states of Manipur and Mizoram have established a self-service purchases system in which shops are left unattended, with only a cash jar for buyers to make their self-served purchases’ payments in order to avoid close contact[28]. Taking into account Manipur’s position in the national crime rate ranking (ranked 28th), this measure might not come about as a surprising one. On the contrary, merchants of Mizoram (ranked 12th) do appear to be making a risky choice by entrusting their clients with self-service stations[73]. This shows that values, such as trust, have amplified as a means to battle the pandemic.

Furthermore, due to the food shortage occasioned by the closing of the Northeast states’ borders and, subsequently, of their normal trade routes, in the Kangpokpi district in Manipur, a Christian agricultural village called Konsakhul is supplying free agricultural goods such as vegetables to nine nearby villages which comprise Muslim and Hindu majorities[30]. This is a remarkable event considering two aspects:

1. There are violent conflicts between these different religious groups in historical records. For instance Christian Naga people and Hindu nationalist military have been in conflict for half a century, additionally, Hindu and Muslim disputes have been subject to extreme violence as demonstrated by the 1984 Sikh riots[74].

2. There exist long-held tensions amongst the various ethnic groups of the regions—such as the Kuki and the Meitei People—which have often led to turbulent encounters, such as the recent confrontation between the Naga and Kuki People [28][75].

Given these circumstances, it can be claimed that the current climatic situation has sparked off an unbiased feeling of tolerance across some states of Northeast India, since “the villagers of Konsakhul village are...not differentiating between any communities, caste, creed and religion" and neither are the people from the assisted areas—mindful of the fact that they are fain to receive the aid [30]. In this context, this cooperation scenario showcases the potential creation of a bond between three different religions (Christian, Hindu, and Muslim), albeit a temporary one, since it remains uncertain if this bond will survive the pandemic, and if so, for how long will it endure.

Lastly, certain communities, such as Kohima, have established local quarantine centres which are operated by community volunteers. The centre provides a safe haven for those returning from the mandatory state quarantine, and urges an additional period of self-isolation in order to avoid community transmission of the virus. Moreover, the resources with which the centres function are provided by the same locals in the form of “cash or kind” [76]. For instance, some volunteers offer their help as cooks or guards, whilst others share food or basic health care items (for example mouth masks and antibacterial products, etc.)  Taking into account that Northeast India’s average number of positive COVID-19 cases recently surpassed the national average (8.8% test positivity rate), this cautionary measure illustrates a great spirit of solidarity amongst members of the community to overcome challenges[77].

All things considered, the fact that during the COVID-19 pandemic social values—namely trust, tolerance and solidarity—have gained particular importance and can be said to be determinant of community inclusiveness, strongly suggests that the regular social dynamics across and amongst different ethnic groups of Northeast India have suffered a slight transformation (from quarreling between groups, to helping each other). This idea can be explained through Appadurai’s view that there are various levels of difference, each with a different degree of social significance [78]. Acknowledging the mediatic and social momentum of the pandemic, it can be claimed that the new social norm prioritizes the strict compliance of the COVID-19 preventive measures above all other social aspects of classification. To a certain degree and perhaps just for the duration of the confinement, this prime concern has reduced social division to two main social groups: those who follow preventive measures, and those who do not.

In this view, traditional divisions based on ethnicity have been replaced by a new set of social rules which procure coping with the locally established measures that seek to prevent the spread of the virus. These new social dynamics, specifically auto-service shops, trading commensality, and community cooperation, have had implications on communal displays of social values, such as trust, solidarity, and tolerance, which are aspects that can advance the relationships between groups with different ideals. Ultimately, while the pandemic has created new bonds between communities,being able to be part of these newly created social circles depends on the individuals' complying community-established preventive procedures.

Positive Impact of COVID-19 on the Natural Environment in Northeast India (Tracy Tien)

Air Pollution

For the past two decades, the rapid growth of industrialization in India has contributed great economic growth, more infrastructure, and more cars on the road. Urban development has always been a double edge sword, and it was the same in India. The price India had to pay for the rapid development was severe air pollution. Air pollution in India is responsible for 12.5 percent of all deaths in the country, according to the State of India's Environment (SoE) report, 2019. 8.5 out of every 10,000 children in India die before they turn five due to poor air. In particular, New Delhi is the most polluted capital city in the world, according to a report by Greenpeace.[79] 99% of cities in South Asia failed to meet WHO PM 2.5 targets. PM 2.5 is fine particulate matter that is less than one millionth of a metre in width. It is so fine that it can penetrate blood vessels with ease. These airborne particles that are linked to a wide range of health problems. Many countries have set up low cost sensor stations throughout the countries to monitor the air quality. In the world, countries use AQI (Air Quality Index) to measure the quality of the air. Each countries' formula and name of the index vary depending on the unique composition of the air in the region. In India, the AQI accounts for PM2.5, PM10, NO2, NH3, SO2, Ozone, and CO. The lower the index is the better the air quality is in the region. [80][81] 6 out of 10 most polluted cities are in India. That being said, the North, Northeast, and South India, only 22, 19, and 2% districts violate the NAAQS, respectively.[82] Space heating contributes more than 40% of all household emission in a few regions of North, Northeast, South, and West India and in the Himalayan foothills. This is due to the Indian population was still dependent on solid fuels for cooking, heating, and other household energy services.[83]

Pre-COVID

NASA Satellite Image: Haze and smog in Northeast India and Bangladesh

Agartala the capital city of Tripura, has an extremely high concentration (17.8 ± 9.2 μg/m3) of Black Carbon (BC) in the Winter, and lower during monsoon (2.8 ± 1.7 μg/m3). BC is the by-product of incomplete combustion of fossil fuel. The extremely high concentration indicates that Tripura is a highly polluted city.[84] Another major city Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh has an average values of BC mass concentration varied between 60 μg/m3 and 70 μg/m3 during 3–4 January, 2009,[85] which was 3 times as high as Agartala. Ambient air quality studies were carried out in 5 cities in Assam, Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Golaghat, Tezpur and Bongaigaon. The concentration of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and NO2 are relatively within standard, however the respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM), suspended particulate matter (SPM) are of Critical and Moderate level consistently across the spam of 2007-2009.[86] The air pollution level is very high in Assam. Manipur has a high free floating PCB concentration in the Air. PCB is a high toxicity, persistence and carcinogenic and mutagenic human health effects. The high concentration is possibly from free floating PCB from other districts in India.[87]

Post-COVID

After the breakout of COVID-19, the Government of India posed various restrictions then followed by a lockdown to contain the contagious virus. This includes directing the citizens to maintain social distancing, wear protective gears like masks and put in travel restrictions. Due to these emergency policies in place, various anthropogenic activities like industrial projects, automobile usage, construction projects and tourism has been put to an abrupt pause.[88] Since the lockdown administered in March 24 2020[89], the average PM 2.5 levels decreased by 22% and nitrogen dioxide — which comes from burning fossil fuels — dropped by 15%, according to air pollution data analyzed by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.[90] The Northeast air quality has always been moderate compared to the National average even during pre-COVID time. The AQI ranges from 51-137 on March 3 2020 in available observing stations in the 3 Northeastern states. Still, the drastic decrease in anthropological activities contribute to a staggering average 82% decrease of AQI in the Northeastern region.[91] On Aug 21 2020, the AQI in Guwahati, Assam is at 63, with PM2.5 level at 18 µg/m³, PM10 at 44 µg/m³ and NO2 at 12 µg/m³[92], compared to NO2 of 17 µg/m³ in 2007.[86] Currently, direct data comparison is limited due to how recent the COVID lockdown is. Most resources like the IQAir provide real time data without the ability to search historically. That being said, the residents in Northeast India can finally see the clear sky and the clear Himalayan peaks again, indicating that the air quality has improved significantly since the Lockdown has been administered.

AQI Change Pre Lockdown v.s Post Lockdown[91]
Assam AQI on Mar 3 AQI on Aug 20 Percentage Change
Guwahati 137 28 -79.56%
Meghalaya
Shillong 51 8 -84.31%

River Pollution

Water is an especially sacred source of anthropological activities in India. It provides basic needs like drinking water, irrigation, cleaning, and entertainment. This is partly the reason why the river was a potent transmitter of Malaria in the 1930s in India. It helped transmitting Malaria but it also helped transmitting DDT.[93] As such, the effect of pollution in one river has effects not only in the nearby cities, but has impacts on the entire water system in India.

The CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) has 5 classes of water based on total Coliforms Organism, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Free Ammonia, Electrical Conductivity, Sodium absorption Ratio, and Boron level. Idea quality of drinking and contact-use water should be pH level between 6.5-8.5, dissolved oxygen from 4-6 mg/l or more and a biochemical oxygen demand less than 3mg/l per day in a 20 degree Celsius water. [94] In addition to the drinking and contact-use water quality criteria, the ideal quality of ecological sensitive zones should have no detectable odour, colour, suspended solids, floating matters, oil and crease of 0.1mg/l, and heavy metal of less than 0.01mg/l.[95]

The major river systems in Northeast India are the Brahmaputra, and the Barak River system. The Barak River system can be broken down to river systems flowing to Bangladesh, to States of Mizoram, and to Burma. The main rovers are the Brahmaputra River, Barak River, and the Manipur River.[96] The main source of pollution in Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura is sewage, while the sources of pollution in rivers in Assam are industrial effluent and coal mining in addition to sewage.[97] Ever since the pandemic hits, almost all the river systems in India made visible improvement within 21 days of the city lockdowns, proving that anthropological activities play an enormous role in the world's dirtiest rivers. Just as the Indian government plans to to go into phase 2 re-opening, PM Narendra Modi has announced the inauguration of the Manipur dam in an attempt to boost the economy. The capitalism approach to a disaster can seem clever to many who are pro-development, but the damage to the Mother Nature may be even so vast that the Indian people can never see the clear river basin again.[98][99]

A Snapshot of the polluted Brahmaputra River of Assam

Pre-COVID

The Moirang River in Manipur is highly polluted. It has high concentration of free CO2 (14.8 mg/l), nitrite-nitrogen (0.040 mg/l), inorganic phosphorus (0.107 mg/l and faecal coliform bacteria (162/100 ml), and most of its floral and faunal compositions are the species that are tolerant in highly polluted environments.[100] Coliforms are the major microbial indicator of water quality monitoring. The World Health Organisation (1996) provided guidelines for drinking water quality and recommended that no faecal coliform should be found in drinking water.

The Barak River in the southern part of Assam is also polluted, although not as severely as the Moirang River. The PanchgramIt section of the Barak River has a concentration of free CO2 (4.0-4.3 mg/l), and adequate dissolved oxygen level (5.1-5.36 mg/l) and a pH of 6.23-6.45. Interestingly, the free carbon dioxide (FCO2) value are higher during the monsoon seasons compared to the summer and winter seasons. Although the PanchgramIt section had the least ideal metrics, the viable counts (TVC) in all samples are higher than the prescribed Bureau of Indian Standards (ISI 1991). The observations clearly indicate that, all the studied sites of the Barak River have been contaminated with water-borne pathogenic bacteria.[101]

Brahmaputra, Assam’s largest river, is facing severe pollution crisis. In addition to the waste disposal, the oil pollution is also a major contributor of pollution in Brahmaputra. The increased urbanization not only increases the usage of the river water, but also increases the amount of sewage going into the river. In 2014, the Assam Pollution Control Board found out that nearly 700 households in Guwahati alone had drainage lines directly connected to the river, which carried sewage from the households to the river without any treatment. Oil is one of Assam’s primary economic assets. Oil processing factories situated near the river banks pose major threat to the river and the state’s pollution control board documents more than 40 incidents of oil spillage from these factories in 2014-15. Oil does not dissolve in water and blocks oxygen, suffocating aquatic life in the process. Oil pollution also significantly polluted groundwater.[102]

Post-COVID

Due to the recency of the COVID lockdown, the improvement of water quality is mostly based on visible decrease in the presence of trash, and colour and smell of the river. That being said, a stunning difference within 21 days of shutting down can be felt and observed by normal citizens without any training speaks to the root cause of the long and nasty history of river pollution in India.

In the water sample analysis report by the Department of Environment (Rajshahi Divisional office), total dissolved solids (TDS) in the waters of Karotoa, Ichamati, Boral, Jamuna, Padma and Teesta reduced and fell to 250 mg/l from upstream and downstream of six rivers, Korotoa, Padma, Jamuna, Teesta, Ichamati and Boral and at 26 locations of the division. The TDS level sometimes even dropping to 150 mg/l. The data shows that the water quality of the six rivers improved during the shutdown.[103]

Brahmaputra water has been very clean without any garbage floating in its water ever since the lockdown starts. It is apparent that the source of the garbage was people.[104] In the port city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, the daily waste went down by a staggering 90%, from 1,000 metric tonnes down to 100-200 metric. The Corporation officials attributes this improvement to the decrease in tourist, and local commercial activities including shopping and dining since the March lockdown.[105] In Imphal, Manipur, the most polluted river or perhaps the dirtiest in the entire country, Nambul River sees clean water flowing post lockdown. Again, it is apparent that it is the human activities that contribute to the heavy pollution of these once beautiful rivers. To make sure that the river condition doesn't return to that of the pre-lock down, some concern ministers or bureaucrats or social workers had initiated several work programmes or campaigns to keep the Nambul river clean and free from pollution. [106]

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