Battling the Contagious Disease of Racism: A Personal Account From Germany

I had been holed up in the apartment that I moved to earlier this month for nine days. Just a day before, the German government finally announced a complete lockdown, and the Chancellor went into quarantine.

I needed to get some fresh air, refill stocks, and also try to get essential bank work done – my address had to be changed. I prayed that there were some stock as I went out.

I do not have a mask currently, they flew out off the shelves pretty fast, and my Amazon order is currently showing April 4 as the possible delivery date. I put on a handmade tissue-mask, and put an additional layer with a dupatta.

I went to a three-storied shopping complex to limit the travel, and walked so that I didn’t have to catch a bus. People were on the move, people were briskly walking in and out of the complex to avoid any interactions.

As I was about to enter, a shout drew me to another entrance on the other side. I noticed an elderly German woman standing very close to an Asian man, pointing at him and shouting frantically, “Corona, corona… Chinesisch! (Corona, Corona… Chinese!)”

Also read: ‘You are Coronavirus’: Students From Northeast India Face Bigotry Over Pandemic

I then saw two young Germans walk up to him and hold him by his collar. They pushed him against the wall and started beating him up. Although a couple standing at a distance was pointing at the commotion and whispering, they did nothing.

I gathered some courage and walked up to them. Maintaining the one-and-a-half metre distance that is now mandatory, I said, “What the heck is going on here?”

They replied and said that they thought the Asian man they were pummelling was Chinese, and hence they didn’t want him to enter the mall.

In the meantime, the Asian man being beaten up kept on pleading in broken German, and said that he was from Vietnam, and has not been to Asia in two years.

But the two boys were not interested in listening and continued beating him.

I started calling the emergency phone number of the local police. Suddenly, I felt a sharp attack on my neck. It was the old woman, she had used her hiking stick that is commonly used in south Germany because of the terrain.

I was bleeding from my neck but I gathered myself, turned around and started calling the number again. It was engaged, so I managed to walk up to the bus station where the police were on patrol to monitor the lockdown and explained the situation to them. The police were prompt and helpful, and immediately came with me.

The traumatised Vietnamese man somehow managed to fold his hands and fled. The old woman was quite adamant even as the police approached, but I felt assured that they would take care of the situation – I had to attend to my wound, so I rushed to a washroom inside.

More than being physically hurt, this incident left me shaken and enraged.

A COVID-19 vaccine would be the result of the hard work of scientists. But is there any cure to the cold, thorny, contagious disease of racism?

As told to Debdutta Paul.

Featured image credit: People wait outside a newly opened coronavirus disease clearing up centre in Berlin, March 9, 2020/Reuters/Michele Tantussi