Home Indian Muslim Corona and Communal Bigotry: India’s Double-Edged Dilemma

Corona and Communal Bigotry: India’s Double-Edged Dilemma

image from Twiter

By Murshed H Choudhury, TwoCircles.net

When twelve members of Foreigners’ Tribunal in Assam wrote a letter to the state’s Health Minister pledging to donate Rs 60,000 collectively toward the government’s fund for fighting Covid19, they tagged the charity with a condition: this money cannot be “extended to members of violators Tablighi Jamaat, Jihadis and Jahils.” To be noted here, the job of this Tribunal is to adjudicate on citizenship of over 1.9 million people excluded from the final NRC list published on August 31, 2019. It might not sound problematic considering the times of heightened communal bigotry we are living in, but this one-line footnote by the Tribunal has granted them red-carpet entry into the ecosystem of extreme Islamophobia which had been building up since Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last December while referring to protestors of anti-CAA, that those who are creating violence “can be identified by their clothes.”

State-Sponsored Chauvinism?

The poisonous air of Delhi caused by burning of fossil fuels, industrial emissions and agricultural activities seemed so innocuous vis-à-vis the feeling of toxic abhorrence against Muslims en masse preached by BJP leaders and the complicit media, further proliferated by the IT Cell and its unthinking virtual foot soldiers during the Shaheen Bagh days and Delhi election. India’s Home Minister, arguably the second most powerful person in the country, didn’t shy away from urging people to vote for his BJP party in the Delhi state assembly elections so Shaheen Bagh, a Muslim dominated neighborhood in Delhi, gets electrocuted. Another central minister Anurag Thakur and his fellow party member from Delhi, Kapil Mishra, shouted the extremely provocative slogan on multiple occasions, “desh ke inn gaddaro ko, golimarosaalon ko,” asking his supporters to shoot down the ‘traitors’ of the country.

However, when all these communal ploys failed to convince people to vote BJP to power in the state, and the central government saw no end of the anti-CAA protests, Kapil Mishra, who had just lost the election himself, decided to excite people to take law in their hands by vacating a protest site in northeast Delhi. Thus followed waves of savage attacks in mosques, Muslims’ houses and properties between February 23rd and 25th causing the worst communal riots in the Capital that recorded deaths of more than 50 people, needless to say mostly Muslims.

‘RwaNDA Radio’Anchors

Then in the first week of March, when the Covid19 started spreading rapidly in the country, this communal tension slowly started taking a back seat. But the anchors of prime-time TV ‘debates’ quickly got bored of discussing coronavirus, because it is absolutely non-discriminatory and non-communal, to the extent that in one such channel anchors were seen playing antakshari live on air.

However, their boredom didn’t last too long, thanks mainly to the stubbornness and recklessness of Maulana Saad, the ameer (head) of Tablighi Jamaat. His easily avoidable decision to go ahead with the ijtema or annual congregation of the Jamaat in mid-March, not only aggravated India’s fragile effort to fight corona, but supplied fresh oxygen to right-wing leaders, journalists and social media warriors who were desperately waiting for such an incident to happen.

All mainstream news channels peopled with hawkish anchors got so charged up by then as if they had discovered the root cause of the pandemic and invented the cure too. Although Tablighis’ irresponsible behavior is in no way justifiable (of course a section of Muslims did try to do so by putting blame on police and the government), the rightwing ‘political analysts’ and politicians went over the top to vilify Muslims and to prove that it is not simply carelessness or ignorance, but the part of a pan-Islamic conspiracy, a “corona-jihad.”

According to a Time magazine article,  data provided by the digital human rights group Equality Labs, from March 28 to April 3, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad have appeared nearly 300,000 times and potentially been viewed by 165 million on Twitter only. Ultimately, the poison and prejudice are home delivered to its end users, the naïve semi-literate or illiterate Internet users across the country: in villages, small towns as well metros.

Arguably India’s loudest (yes, pun intended) Islamophobic journalist Arnab Goswami came up with the statistics, “One out of 3 cases in India are directly because of Tablighi Jamaat.” His one-man channel in fact blamed Tablighis for Lockdown 2.0 while he tweeted “Jo log Markaz ka saath de rahe hain, unko bhi desh ka gaddar kyun na kaha jaye? Poochta hai Bharat” (Why shouldn’t those who support Markaz be called traitors? Asks India). Deepak Chaurasia minced no words to call Tablighi Jamaat as “Talibani Jamaat” only to deny it moments later when a Jamaat supporter asked him whether he said so intentionally or it was a mistake. Babita Phogat, the Dangal famed wrestler, took this opportunity to score some brownie points (remember she is a member of the BJP) by abusing Tablighis as suwar (pigs) and jahil who need to gunned down.

Who are Bearing the Brunt?

The results of these hate campaigns from three quarters—politicians, mainstream media and social media—are for the world to witness now. Multiple reports and videos started pouring in from many parts of the country, mainly from the Hindi belt in north India, of Muslim fruit and vegetable vendors being boycotted, beaten up and abused by locals. A pregnant Muslim woman from Bharatpur in Rajasthan was denied admission to a hospital over her religion and referred to a Jaipur hospital. While being taken to the state capital, she delivered her baby in the ambulance, who could not be saved.

A Muslim youth named Dilshad Ali was beaten to death in outer North Delhi’s Bawana area on suspicion of spreading coronavirus among the people in his village. The Wire reported that in Punjab, Muslim herders were allegedly forced by locals to dump hundreds of litres of milk, because they fear the milk might infect them with coronavirus.

Indian Express on April 15 reported that Ahmedabad Civil Hospital in the capital of Modi’s home state, Gujarat, has segregated the 1200 beds dedicated for Covid-19 patients into a Muslim ward and a Hindu ward. When questioned by a reporter, Medical Superintendent Dr Gunvant H Rathod said “this is done as per a state government decision,” although the state health minister denied any knowledge of it.

Silence Means Consent?

All these smear campaigns and its consequent violence coupled with discrimination against the minority community are emboldened by cautious silence of the most powerful person in the country. In his April 14 address to the nation, Prime Minister Modi extended the nationwide lockdown till May 3 and thanked the nation for bearing the hardships, especially the poor who are the worst hit by the virus. However, he didn’t spare a single word to admonish those who are spreading anti-Muslim rhetoric at a time when the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom reminded countries the perils of resorting to divisive politics by saying, “when there is a crack at the national level, between political parties, between religious groups… that’s when virus gets a crack.”

Not only did he observe silence regarding massive hate campaign against Muslims, the Prime Minister, who has more than 55.3 million followers on Twitter, didn’t post a single tweet either, despite being fully aware of how effective his one tweet is (Don’t forget his ideas of banging thalis and lighting candles to fight corona).

Modi’s pindrop silence is regarded as a seal of approval by the hate-mongers who have built their career on it, like Amit Malviya, the BJP IT Cell head, as well as TV anchors who leave no stone unturned to appease the current dispensation. And why shouldn’t they, given many motormouths have been rewarded with ministries and seats in parliaments, be it Giriraj Singh, Anant Hegde or Sadhvi Pragya?


The Path Forward

Scientists around the world are racing against time to invent vaccines and medicines for coronavirus and hopefully within a year or two they will succeed. However, it’s unfortunate that no sincere efforts are being made neither by the government nor the judiciary or the executive to cure the plague caused by this communal hatred and jingoism.

It is time that our intellectuals, social activists, religious leaders, celebrities and artists come out of their comfort zones, stop relying on the system and undertake the task of fighting this menace through aggressive campaigns, both online and offline, by educating and sensitizing people about the role of communal harmony in a democracy to succeed and to achieve meaningful development for all. The journey will be painstaking and perilous, but to win the war we have to lose many battles.