Kolkata resident fights racism with strong message on his T-shirt – Times of India

Kolkata News

Francis Yee Lepcha, 41, an Indian national of Chinese origin whose family has been living in Kolkata for three generations now, had never faced any racial discrimination. He used to consider himself lucky that unlike a few of his friends, his Mongoloid features had never been the subject of bullying in school or college. But in the past two weeks, everything has changed.
Since the novel coronavirus pandemic turned life on its head around the world, his Chinese origin has become his bane. So bad has been his ordeal that he decided to design and don a T-shirt that says, ‘Ami kono coronavirus noi, ami Kolkata te jonmogrohon korechi, ami kokhono Cheen jai ni’ (I’m not some coronavirus. I was born in Kolkata and have never been to China). “I am not even 100% Chinese. During World War II, my grandfather emigrated to the then Calcutta from China. He went on to marry a Lepcha girl from Darjeeling. That’s why I don’t even have pure Chinese features. But obviously, I don’t expect people to understand the difference,” Francis, a musician by profession, told us.

It started in Puri

A trip to Puri is an annual tradition of sorts in Francis’s family. And on March 15, they did just that. Everything went fine till they reached the hotel. On seeing them, a Bengali family raised a hue and cry demanding that if Francis’s family was allowed to stay, they would check out of the hotel. “The hotel authorities have known us for years and somehow managed to convince the family that we are not Chinese tourists,” Francis said.
But that was just the beginning. The same evening, when the family went out to the beach, local people and other tourists started harassing and calling them ‘Corona’. Even a hawker made fun of Francis at a roadside stall. “That was the first time I lost my cool and started speaking to them in Bengali. On hearing my flawless accent, they stopped,” Francis told us.
But the experience had already ruined their vacation and they decided to return to Kolkata. But the situation only got worse on their way home. On the train, most Bengali families refused to sit with them. The one family they did sit with started making fun of them, assuming they were from China. “After listening to their jokes for a while, I addressed them in Bengali. You should have seen the looks on their faces! Things were normal for the rest of the journey,” he said with a smile.

What about others?

Francis, however, is not suffering alone. Many others with the slightest hint of Mongoloid features are being harassed or bullied on the streets of Kolkata. All of them have been given a common name — ‘Corona’. And like Francis, they are facing harassment everywhere — on the road, in the Metro, on buses.
This ordeal was the inspiration behind Francis’s T-shirt message. “Unlike me, many of my Chinese friends have faced discrimination their entire lives. But my recent experiences made me realise that people should know that not everyone with Mongoloid features is Chinese or from any other Southeast Asian country. That’s why I decided to get this T-shirt made,” he said.
Once he made up his mind, he got in touch with a custom T-shirt maker in south Kolkata. “I wanted the slogan to be in a lighter vein and yet effective. I felt that only if it makes people smile, will it drive the message home,” Francis added.
And his plan worked. Soon, people started approaching him on the street and in the Metro and he has been making quite a few friends since then. He has also been taking the opportunity to make them aware about his origin and about all those Indians who are often called ‘Chinki’ or considered foreigners. “To be very honest, I’m more worried about the people from the Northeast who stay in Kolkata. The city has around 1,500-2,000 residents of Chinese origin and the number is decreasing. But people from the Northeast will keep coming and going,” he added.

The other victims

A case in point is that of Sabrina Pradhan, a Kalikapur-based Nepali-origin insurance professional who has been residing in the city since 2007. On the evening of March 20, the local grocer refused to sell her goods or even accept money from her alleging that she and her kind were the reason coronavirus was spreading in the city. He went on to demand that she should return to her country. “Since 2007, I have been called names on numerous occasions on city streets. I’m kind of used to hearing people call me Chinki. After the outbreak, I even started hearing people call me Corona, but I ignored them. But this incident was the last straw. I snapped and challenged his baseless allegation,” she told us.
Francis told us about another incident involving a family from Nagaland. “The man is a friend of mine and he told me that when his wife took their son to the local park recently, other kids refused to play with him. ‘They alleged that we had brought coronavirus to India and refused to speak to our son,’ he told me,” Francis added.
Francis knows he has long bridge to cross. “But if I can create awareness and change the perception of even one person, I’ll consider it a step towards success,” he signed off.

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Source: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/kolkata-resident-fights-racism-with-strong-message-on-his-t-shirt/articleshow/74782734.cms