By Nazish Hussain, TwoCircles.net
While the world was dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, in India, however, Muslims became targets of a concerted attack. The media attention was focused on socio-religious organization Tableeghi Jamaat and they were blamed for spreading the virus. New catchphrases emerged targeting Muslim identity like ‘Corona Jihad’, ‘Maulana aaya, Corona laya’, ‘Corona bomb’ etc. Numerous cases of religious discrimination cases were reported across the country.
In Ranchi’s Hindpiri area, the entire place was sealed by the authorities and news was spread of Tableeghi Jamaat members ‘hiding’ there. However, the authorities knew well in advance of the arrival of Tableeghi Jamaat members. Misinformation and rumours were spread regarding Muslims and corona by local newspapers in Ranchi. In the wake of these developments, Muslims had to face the brunt of these rumours in the form of religious discrimination and apathy.
TwoCircles.net spoke with few of these Muslims to talk about their experiences and the quest for justice.
Nadeem Khan, a middle-aged man from Hindpiri, is a social activist. Nadeem is a well-known person in the local community in Hindpiri.
On 30 May, during the pandemic lockdown, he faced an issue regarding monetary discrepancy from his bank account situated near Church road in Ranchi. He had to visit the bank to get the issue resolved. It was the same bank where he was invited for its inauguration. According to him the staff there was known to him and always had friendly demeanour towards him. “However, on that day, when I tried to approach the bank manager regarding my issue, she was rude to me,” he said.
Although shocked at the behaviour, Nadeem tried to put his discomfort aside and wanted to get his work done. So, he proceeded further. And yet again he felt humiliated. This time it got more intense. The lady manager had made derogatory remarks on his religious identity. “Jolha log ko kyun aane dete ho,” she said regarding Nadeem to the guard at the bank. “I got very angry at the remark; however, I controlled my anger and left from there.”
On 2 June, Nadeem wrote a complaint letter against the Manager’s behaviour and sent it to the bank through speed post. But as per Nadeem, his application was simply returned to him at his address on 4 June.
Sharing his thoughts on the necessity to take a stand against such behaviour of discrimination he says, “In Muslim society these incidents (related to corona pandemic) were prevalent and there was no action taken against it. So, I felt it necessary to talk about such behaviour and take stand against these kinds of incidents.”
Nadeem said that many people from the Muslim community approached him with their own experiences of discrimination at ATMs and other places. But when Nadeem asked them to file FIR they were not ready to do so and wanted to just let go.
Nadeem believes that the Muslim community largely remains fearful. “And under the influence of clerics, they remain dependent solely on God. And which is why the Muslim community always adjusts with what happens to them. I too am a believer, but I feel faith should be accompanied with action,” he said.
Keeping these in mind Nadeem was determined to take a stand. He made a team of 5 to 6 people including a lawyer, community and local body representatives to discuss the matter and to take things ahead legally. For filing FIR they went to a police station.
Nadeem says when he talked of filing FIR against the bank on religious discrimination against him, the police officer denying his experience in scolding tone said, “What strange things you are talking of? Bank does not do all that!” To this Nadeem replied, “Have you become judiciary now to pass judgments?” After the verbal spat the police personnel took the application, however, did not file an FIR. The police later said they will investigate the incident. Nadeem claims that the police authorities tried to persuade him to drop the FIR against the bank and compromise on the matter. After three attempts they filed an FIR and the same Police Officer himself became the I.O of the case. “On 6 June I went to thana to file an FIR but on 8 June they registered my FIR and they show the date of 6 June,” says Nadeem. After filing the FIR, the regional manager of the bank called Nadeem on 9 June apologizing for what had happened and intended to close the matter.
Nadeem, however, remained resolute to take action. “The lady has not only hurt me personally but made derogatory remarks based on my religious identity. I did not want to harass anyone with ill intention against anyone. I only have two intentions: what has happened was wrong and must stop and secondly, If you take action at one place it will show the result (acting as a deterrent) at many places.”
“If the authorities wanted to take action they could have approached the lady Bank Manager giving her a warning not to repeat such behaviour. However, they did not do so. I realized that the government might have changed but people are the same as they were with a Sangh mentality,” he says.
Talking about his experience with the police station, Nadeem says that even though he went there with local influential representatives, the police were discriminatory. He says if this was the behaviour of the police with us, how would they behave with common people? “This is why 90 per cent Muslim community is scared of thana police. The 10 per cent gets discouraged by the police behaviour and further demoralized and silenced by ‘kurdoglos’ in the community,” points out Nadeem about the people within the Muslim community.
Nadeem says, “There are many brokers even inside the community whom we have addressed by different names at different times Dalal, Mir Jaffer, Jumman Miyan and now they are known as Kurdoglo (a character from a popular Turkish TV series Dirilis Ertugrul). Many people tried to threaten and to influence me to take the case back. However, I have remained firm in the decision. I have been in social work for two decades and the constitution is enough for me.”
Nadeem says that those who came to influence me have gone silent now and the remaining are calling his story fake. “Now I am fighting to establish what has happened to me. Second, not everyone in society is ignorant. Some people know how to fight back. Third, I want to tell others that if something happens you must also fight back,” he said.
Nadeem wrote letters to the concerned authorities regarding the discrimination and apathy he experienced from the bank and the police respectively. “I have registered a complaint at 15 different institutions including state human rights commission, minority commission and RBI. After that, I received a response from two-three places. Jharkhand State Human Rights Commission sent me response stating the Ranchi city SP should look into the matter of allegations of discrimination against the concerned Police Officer. However, till now no action has been taken on the FIR yet. As a result of my efforts I have only received sympathy till date,” he said.
Sajjad Idrisi is a social worker in Hindpiri who has been vocal and critical against the way administration was handling the lockdown in Hindpiri. He was also actively working on the ground to provide relief to the stranded people in Hindpiri and to maintain peace and distribute rations.
One day in May he received a call from SDO asking to get himself tested for corona to which he replied that he is fit, but after insistence, he obliged and got himself tested. He was informed that his result is positive. After seven days he was to be admitted in a quarantine centre. He received a call from the authorities asking him to inform and calm people himself. Sajjad says he happily obliged with the district administration to maintain law and order. “However, I am deeply hurt by what happened afterwards.” After going to the hospital Sajjad was informed that his whole family would get picked up to be tested and put in quarantine. “I got anxious and I was profusely sweating at that time. I sat on the bed but the stress was so intense that I felt I might get a heart attack,” he said.
Sajjad was asked about people who he had been in touch with. “Since I was active in social and relief work to distribute ration I mentioned that. I was also informed of the meeting I had with DSP and SDO. But they did not quarantine anyone except for my family.”
“My family was taken to another quarantine facility where they were found negative after the corona test. They were asked to be in the quarantine centre for 14 days. That time it was Ramadan. I called authorities in charge of the quarantine facility there. Requesting them that my children and wife are fasting so if they could kindly arrange something for them. But they would only give soaked grams with salt. And there was no one to attend to them or take care of them,” he said.
Sajjad kept in touch with his family through video calls. He recalls, “During a video call, it was so painful for me when my daughter would ask to be with me.” Sajjad says, “My children would tell me that the behaviour of authorities at the quarantine centre was not good with them.”
Sajjad says that the experience at the quarantine centre has affected his family’s mental health. “My 13-year-old daughter is depressed. Her trauma resurfaced from the last four days again. She is not able to sleep. She keeps murmuring that the police are coming and the doctor would arrest and take her to hospital,” he said.
Sajjad says he couldn’t sleep at night thinking of his child’s condition.
Sajad said that being a responsible citizen of the state, he has always come forward to help the governing authorities. “But when I was in trouble and requesting some help, this is what they did to my family instead. What was my fault? Why did they do this to my family?
Imtiyaz Alam, a young father, lost his newborn baby as the state government did not do any arrangement for emergency medical cases before enforcing the lockdown in an entire area with a large population.
“At night, around 1:30 at night my wife started getting labour pain. There was barricading on two roads. We managed to arrive near Marwadi college. On reaching there the police behaved as if we had corona. From afar, the police were asking us to go back and that they will not allow us to leave. I requested that there is a patient but still they did not permit us and started arguing. At last, I had to give up and return home. After coming home I called one nurse. Somehow she managed the delivery,” says Imtiyaz.
With tears brimming in his eyes, he says slowly, “After the delivery, the child died.” Imtiyaz said that after the word spread, the media approached him and he gave a statement. “And then slowly people came to know that was wrong on the part of the police,” he said.
He says that after the news went viral, the police denied if he had ever come there. “The city SP called me to ask if I went there. I asked them to check the CCTV camera. Then the police verified and found that I went there. The next day I saw in the news that one daroga (inspector) got suspended and action was to be taken against one magistrate. After that I could not know what had happened in the case,” he says.
Imtiyaz says he did not file an FIR.
“That time I was disturbed. However, it was also a matter of the community where I live. The community should have taken responsibility and done its duty to take up this issue. I am ready to stand up for the right issue however if I fight alone I won’t be able to go very far. However, if people had supported me I would have taken this up,” he says.
Devanti, 28-year-old, lives in a slum area near Argora Ranchi. In a single room mud home, she lives with her three children, aged between six to three years old. The youngest of her three children is a three-year-old disabled boy who is bedridden. Devanti leaves him to the care of her six-year-old girl child who looks after the kid, while Devanti works in the homes in the colony.
“I was working as a domestic help before lockdown at five homes. During lockdown, everything stopped. Slowly when the restrictions were relaxed people started going back to their work. I also planned to go. Then one of my co-workers who lives in the neighbourhood informed me that I can’t go to work there anymore,” she says.
On asking the reason the co-worker informed Devanthi, “As you are married to a Muslim they won’t keep you and you won’t be allowed to work in Hindu homes.”
Working in those homes, Devanthi never had to reveal her identity to anyone before. On asking how the employer got to know of her identity, she believes someone might have informed them about her. After being refused from one place she stopped going to other Hindu homes herself. “I stopped going to all the other homes myself as other homes too are in the same colony,” she says. Out of the five homes, three were Hindu families and two Muslims. Devanti has now stopped going to Hindu households and works only at Muslim homes.
She says one Hindu lady had called her to come back to work but she refused her. “I did not mention to her why I left working in a Hindu colony rather I said I don’t have time anymore.” She says that as she has never mentioned her identity before, she doesn’t feel like going there now. “Due to corona there was already much going on between Hindus and Muslims so I was scared. I didn’t know how they would react knowing that I had a love marriage with a Muslim man,” she said.
Sajrun Nisha came to the city from a village to earn her livelihood. For the last six years, Sajrun worked in one of the homes in Ashok Kunj Vihar. “Even after the pandemic broke out, I worked there for one month. But then discrimination against Muslims got high. In May the lady employer fired me. She did not say it herself that she is firing me rather she told me people in the society are saying that why I have kept a Muslim and that I should fire you. So I won’t keep you to work in my home anymore,” says Sajrun.
She tried reasoning with the lady but to no avail. “Aunty virus is not associated with any religion. I have been working at your home for so many years. Had you ever faced any problem because of me,” Sajrun tried to reason with her. But the lady employer did not change her mind.
Sajrun says that the lady hired another help, a non-Muslim, who lives in the same slum area where she resides. “Aunty told her that she was not aware that I was a Muslim and if she knew she would not have kept me. When I confronted Aunty regarding this matter she simply refused that she ever said anything like that,” mentions Sajrun.
She laughingly points out the irony that the Hindu lady herself lives in the rented home of a Muslim owner.
Sajrun later went to work at an office. One day as Sajrun was getting ready for work she received a call asking her to not come now and they didn’t tell her when to come. After two-three days Sajrun got to know that they had hired someone else to work there. “I called the staff there asking if they had hired someone already or they would still call me.” From the office, she got a reply that they have hired someone else. “I told them that they should have let me know and that I would have started looking somewhere else. To that, they replied it was the order from the boss to keep a Hindu for work.”
After this experience, she says, “Now, I will never go back there again.”
“A month before I got to know that the aunty who fired me had got corona. People asked me to call her and give a fitting reply. But I let it go. However, I feel it is important to raise the issue of religious discrimination,” says Sajrun.