Gujarat’s Muslims fight Islamophobia, hatemongers amid COVID-19 lockdown

Muslim men and women have learnt to file police complaints against hatemongers

By Mahesh Trivedi,

GUJARAT: Amid the ongoing battle against the deadly COVID-19, Muslims in the state of Gujarat are not just fighting the disease but the rising hate and Islamophobia.

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The six-million-odd Muslims in Gujarat are taking on the hatemongers even as the number of Coronavirus positive cases in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state shot up to 7,700 with the death toll mounting to 472 on May 9.

Bruised and battered since the 2002 communal riots in this western Indian state, the minority community had been lying low till the right-wing media last month went to circulate Islamophobic slants of news targeting Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic reformist group, for the spread of coronavirus in India.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party’s flush-with-funds info-tech cell kick-started what activists said a “systematic, synchronised and organized” attempt to target Muslims through distortion and lies which were communal in nature and inciteful in tone, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani himself also twice—on April 25 and May 2—publicly accused the Jamaat of deliberately spreading the deadly pathogen.

But no longer.

Shamshad Pathan has shown the way to tackle hatemongers.

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of non-government organizations (NGOs), the Muslim community has fought the hate campaigns and stopped them in their tracks.

By writing protest letters to Gujarati newspaper editors for sensitive headlines day in and day out, flooding police stations with strongly-worded complaints of harassment, and breathing down the neck of cybercrime officials with constant phone calls, hundreds of alert Muslim men and women throughout the state have been fighting out Islamophobia.

“Some 1,100 angry oral and verbal representations have been made to editors, television anchors, the police and bureaucrats in the past two months. The result is that countless mischievous social media users have been silenced and newspapers have softened their language,” Mujahid Nafees, convener of the Minorities Coordination Committee, Gujarat, told

The committee, whose volunteers are spread throughout the length and breadth of Gujarat, has been fighting for the rights of the minorities and campaigning for the establishment of a separate minority welfare ministry in the state, and has launched a helpline (9409185104) for reporting cases of harassment or hatred and seeking guidance on any legal action.

The Alpasankhyak Adhikar Manch (Minority Rights Forum) is yet another NGO which has mobilized the minority community for challenging the hatemongers in print, electronic or social media by filing police complaints.

Abdul Hafiz Lakhani says Muslims have become untouchables during the pandemic

Manch convener Shamshad Pathan, a Gujarat High Court advocate, told that he held Facebook live sessions to explain the right procedure to approach the police without fear and his efforts paid off with hundreds of FIRs registered not only in big cities but also in small towns much to the chagrin of Hindu fanatics.

 Indeed, according to Gujarat director general of police, Shivanand Jha, at least 600 FIRs—80 per cent of them related to hate campaigns–have been lodged against the social media posts peddling fake news and 1,300 people have been arrested since the beginning of the lockdown what with 570 social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram having been suspended or deleted.

The constant pressure from the Muslim complainants and watchdogs against hatemonger’s, who include doctors and lawyers, compelled the Gujarat Police in mid-April to recruit cyber volunteers in Ahmedabad and Surat to help in curbing the spread of hate content and rumours over coronavirus and lockdown on social media.

With hate messages still doing the rounds, about 5,000 people, including nearly 800 experts in IT, computer and forensic science, have agreed to offer their services as “cyber volunteers, warriors and gurus.”

On April 8, Ahmadabad executive Mukesh Patel was arrested for describing ‘Tablighi Jamaat as terrorists and asking Hindus not to buy fruits from Muslim vendors,’ on his Facebook.

In mid-April, at a 1,200-bed coronavirus care centre in Ahmedabad civil hospital, said to be the biggest in Asia, separate wards were created for Hindu and Muslim patients, annoying the minority community.

 A Surat-based accountant also was called out on April 16 for his anti-Muslim Facebook post saying 2,500 people of Tablighi Jamaat had been sent to different parts of India to deliberately spread the deadly coronavirus disease.

A few days later, a disabled Muslim man who accidentally dropped currency notes at a petrol pump in Valsad was falsely accused of spreading coronavirus after a video went viral.

On April 29, a March 23 video from Maharashtra was shared as Muslims gathering at a mosque in Ahmedabad amid lockdown.

Again last month, the cybercrime cell arrested a 53-year-old man for morphing Ahmedabad Police’s confidential letter and spreading hate speech on social media regarding Tablighi Jamaat members. He had edited the letter and changed it to read, “Hindu brothers are requested not to buy vegetables from Muslim vendors”.

Mujahid Nafees has launched a helpline for victims of hate and harassment

Worried, some 150 worried youths across Gujarat belonging to Youth Collaborative made note of such hate messages and filed as many as 540 complaints at various police stations in the state citing the mischief-mongers’ old videos and manipulated photos that had gone viral.

Abdul Hafiz Lakhani, editor of popular Gujarati weekly ‘Gujarat Siyasat’ told that “Muslims were already maligned and painted as dangerous under systematic propaganda.”

“Coronavirus has added a new dimension, turning Muslims into the new untouchables,” he added.

Though the Gujarat police have been warning hatemongers against posting communal posts and even filing cases against many, Hindu-Muslim unity, it seems, may remain a pipedream in the land of Mahatma Gandhi.

However, human rights lawyers like Pathan are making all-out efforts for making sure Islamophobia is countered and hate messages against Muslims are fought back, even as Muslims account for 50 per cent of corona deaths.

“We will meet the higher officials after the lockdown and see that the FIRs are converted into convictions,” the Manch convener said.