India will overcome coronavirus, will it overcome the communal virus?

Jamia mosque in Bengaluru turned into Covid Centre [Courtesy: Mosque committee Bengaluru]

It needs to be said that Indian Muslims do not need to prove their loyalty to India. Despite the humiliations, vilification and hate campaigns, Indian Muslims contributed to the ongoing fight against coronavirus.

Md Asif Khan,

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India has been massively hit by the second wave of coronavirus. At present, India is seeing more than 400,000 Covid-19 cases and 4000 deaths per day. Health infrastructure has collapsed and people are dying due to a shortage of oxygen and paucity of ICU beds and ventilators in the country’s hospitals. Bodies are piling up outside crematoriums and people are afraid to touch the dead bodies of their family members. 

In such a horrific situation when everyone is suffering and trying to fight the coronavirus, millions of Indian Muslims have to fight against 2 viruses simultaneously – one is the coronavirus and another is the communal virus spread by Hindu Nationalists. 

In the last year, since the Covid-19 pandemic took over the country, things haven’t changed for Indian Muslims. Last year when India was hit by the first wave of Covid-19, Muslims in India were blamed and accused of being the sole spreaders of the virus. Members of the socio-religious organization Tablighi Jamaat were criminalized, hate campaigns were broadcast by Indian media against Muslims and in this way an entire community was dehumanized. Due to this hate-filled propaganda ran by sections of the Indian media and supporters of BJP and Modi, Muslims in India faced violence, harassment in the formal of taunts and were discriminated against. 

Even after one year, things are the same for Indian Muslims amid the second wave of the coronavirus. 

Recently, Tejsavi Surya, a BJP parliamentarian from South Bengaluru, communalized the virus by using anti-Muslim dog whistles. Tejasvi Surya claimed to unearth an alleged scam in the allocation of hospital beds for Covid patients. He alleged that there is a scam going on in Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) War Room, a call centre which is managed by BJP ruled Bangalore Municipal Corporation. 

Tejasvi Surya and two other MLAs “raided” the war room to unearth an alleged bed allocation scam. BBMP has 205 employees, but Surya cherry-picked only 17 names out of 205 and read out those names in the presence of people and cameras, surprisingly all those 17 names belong to the Muslim community. Those 2 MLAs who accompanied him go on to ask if the War Room was “a madrasa” (an Islamic religious school) or a “Haj House”. Soon afterwards, the 17 Muslims were suspended and later detained by police. A list of their names started circulating on social media with the claim that “these 17 terrorists are responsible for the death of Hindu patients in Bangalore”. Sarfaraz Khan, who is the Joint Commissioner of Bangalore Municipal Corporation was blamed for it. 

Reports said that the terminated Muslim employees received many threatening call and messages on their WhatsApp and social media. However, the terminated Muslim employees were later released by the Police, given a clean chit and reinstated after massive outrage. 

In another incident a few weeks ago, a BJP leader objected to the presence of a Muslim volunteer at a crematorium in Gujarat.

These kinds of incidents are enough to expose the Narendra Modi government’s prejudices and biases against Indian Muslims. Last year also, Muslims in India were blamed for spreading the virus in the county, and many members of Tablighi Jamaat were arrested, many poor Muslims were attacked by a mob on the streets, and many poor Muslim vendors had to face an economic boycott. 

Last year BJP leaders gave communal statements against Muslims. The BJP government directly blamed Muslims for the pandemic. This year, the same Modi government and BJP leaders endorsed the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu religious congregation that was attended by millions of devotees, which has been accused of being a super spreader event. 

When India was reporting thousands of Covid cases per day in March and April 2021, the BJP govt was publishing front-page ads in a newspaper about Kumbh Mela. 

Amid the rising second wave, full-page ads in newspapers on 21 March 2021, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited people to attend the Maha Kumbh in Uttarakhand.

While the Kumbh Mela event has drawn flak from sections of the media. However, the reaction to the event has been different compared with the Tablighi Jamaat event last year. The members of Tablighi Jamaat were traced by the government and police. They faced legal actions, however, no such response was seen with the Kumbh attendees. It is impossible to track back those millions of people, and the government also hasn’t shown any such interest leave alone taking legal action against them. This attitude of the BJP government is enough to prove that Muslims were targeted systematically last year.

It needs to be said that Indian Muslims do not need to prove their loyalty to India. Despite the humiliations, vilification and hate campaigns, Indian Muslims contributed to the fight against coronavirus. Last year, when millions of migrant workers were forced to come on the streets due to lockdown, the members of the Muslim community helped them by distributing food, water and other basic amenities. 

This year when India is again battling against the deadly virus, the Indian Muslims can be seen fighting at the forefront. To illustrate this, many mosques in India have been converted into Covid-19 care centres, Muslim NGOs are providing free Oxygen cylinders and medicine to Covid-19 patients in a different part of the country. In several parts of the country, many Muslim volunteers have been working at crematoriums for weeks and months. In this situation when even family members of the deceased Covid patients are refusing to touch their dead bodies, Indian Muslims are performing the funeral of Hindus. 

In Maharashtra, four Muslim volunteers cremated more than 800 Hindu dead bodies since the beginning of the pandemic. 

A team of volunteers from Tablighi Jamaat have conducted over 500 Covid-19 funerals in Tirupati. Despite all these humanitarian acts by the Muslims in India, Hindu Nationalists and Modi supporters are still trying their best to defame them. 

The most important question that remains to be asked is that India will eventually overcome coronavirus in future, but how will India overcome this communal virus?


Md Asif Khan is a social activist. He tweets at @imMAK02