Power has always been linked to supremacy. The idea of power is to gather people from all sections of the society and influence them to follow. While power could be a blessing in cases it is lawfully utilised, such as when associated with development and stability, however, power is generally something the masses feel wary about.
A Very Curious Case of Tablighi Jamaat
The Tablighi Jamaat conference took place in Delhi between March 13 and March 15, 2020. It was attended by foreign delegates from various countries including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia, Gambia, South Africa, United Kingdom, France, United States of America, Trinidad and Tobago. However, about a fortnight later, it was discovered to be a Covid cluster!
The event invited extensive media coverage and criticism as an international assembly uncalled for when the world was fearing a major viral outbreak. The event later triggered political and communal rhetoric. ‘Irrational’ and ‘orthodox’ Muslims were roundly blamed by the State and media in hindsight for defying the lockdown and thus spreading the virus.
Immediately before the pandemic, the Muslim community was subjected to heightened violence and surveillance during the movement led by Muslim women against three controversial proposed government actions relating to citizenship – the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the National Population Register (NPR). The pandemic only made things worse.
The already commonplace notion of ‘meat-eating, ignorant, religiously orthodox Muslims’ acting against the nation’s interest and its Hindu fabric, connected seamlessly with the contagious aspect of the coronavirus.
By April end, Twitter user and activist Mohammad Asif Khan had compiled 30 instances of Muslims facing backlash and hatred due to the pandemic’s communalised narrative. Thejesh N, a Bangalore-based technologist, with other individuals and groups, created a database of all hate-based crimes during the pandemic. All seven out of the seven categories of violence documented include instances where Muslims were directly attacked!
Social Media and Misinformation
Some of the stories and narratives compiled by Bebaak Collective, a detailed report on communalisation of Covid in India, are presented under:
“They started building a narrative that Muslims don’t want to get tested and are attacking our corona warriors. This has been blown so out of proportion that the locality has been stigmatized so much. Anywhere in Bangalore if you see a Muslim they are asked if you’ve come from Padarayanapura. Now people are avoiding Muslim localities to clean tanks or sell groceries.” – Swathi, Bangalore
The report also highlights how the Times of India and NDTV were reporting figures which used the Tablighi incident as a crucial variable in calculating the rate of the spread of the virus. These reports cited ambiguous government sources without identifying the department or the person responsible for calculating these figures. Neither did they cite the methodology that was used.
Zohra, a grassroots activist from Lucknow, who spent her days during the lockdown providing support to Muslim women, shared,
“Nearly all the 12 hotspots that were identified in Lucknow and sealed subsequently were Muslim areas… more than half of them were near a mosque. In fact, all mosques were sealed, the qabristans (Muslim burial grounds) saw excessive police presence. Nearly 10-12 policemen would patrol each of these burial grounds. When the festival of Shab-e-Barat approached, the police would pick on innocuous people dressed in an ‘Islamic way’ and beat them up, without enquiring the purpose of them being on the road.”
Appending Corona Jihad to the Democracy of India
Governing India has never been an easy task. There have been instances every decade which prove that people elected to oversee this nation have time and again managed to throw it deeper into the abyss of suffering. Although earlier there would be episodes of communal violence based on religious differences, surprisingly a ‘virus’ is responsible for disparity among Hindus and Muslims today. This superfluous behavior has come into play because of people who believe aggression is part and parcel of being ‘patriotic’. Now when everybody has been confined to lockdown and quarantine, another menace wanders India to snatch the little bit of life left in the equally scared and panic-struck Muslim citizens.
The Bebaak Collective report cites that cases were filed in Bhopal against people for unauthorised movement under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code − disobedience shown to an order duly promulgated by a public servant.
A narrative states,
“As soon as you entered Old Bhopal, you would find that at every 500 meters there was strict patrolling and barricades were put up. Every person who stepped outside was being interrogated, cases were filed against those who could not satisfactorily justify their presence. Whereas in New Bhopal, I would traverse 15 km from Ayodhya bypass to Rohit Nagar, and I would not get stopped at a single checkpoint, since the patrolling and surveillance was nearly absent there.”
With such a deeply rooted fear, Indian Muslims have become a group with mass anxiety and trauma. The act of flogging and shaming continues on repeat. What brought this is an undemocratic, biased idea that Jamaat-i-Islami, the Tablighi Jamaat, were responsible for the spread of coronavirus in India. And now, people are viciously throwing around the term − Corona Jihad.
Do they even know what Jihad is? They don’t. Nonetheless, they continue to use this term, wherever they deem fit. This has been what India is subjected to every decade. We all know the source differs but the result does not. One loses count of days when such senseless thoughts brought bloodshed to this country.
The targeting and stereotyping of Muslims as ‘terrorists’ and ‘anti-nationals’ is typical of the relations between the police and community. In 2006, the Sachar Committee Report had noted that police presence in Muslim localities is more common than schools, industry, public hospitals, and banks. The policing of Muslim areas during the pandemic, therefore, is a continuation of a longer pattern of surveilling and disciplining the anti-national threat from areas designated as mini-Pakistan. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report on community perceptions of policing has noted how raids into homes and arrests of young Muslim boys on mere suspicion are an everyday experience of Muslims in these localities.
Another instance that was reported in Bebaak Collective was the situation in Nizamuddin basti in Delhi. It was likened to a ‘jail’ by Sana − a health activist who has been working on connecting relief efforts to people and advocating for an equitable and sensitive healthcare system − referring to the high presence of police and CRPF in the area and severe curbs on mobility. The containment restrictions in the area had severely curtailed movement, and jeopardized access to services and livelihood or residents in the area.
In response to this, she said:
“The residents of Nizamuddin said in a legal notice to the Delhi government that although there were no positive cases in the basti for more than two months, yet the State continued to declare it a containment zone.”
The report exhibits how Muslims have borne the brunt of abuse on every front. It has categorised each episode under different sub-headings, explained as under.
Loss of Livelihoods
Post-1990, communal violence has taken the shape of targeting homes and businesses of minority groups and does not just consist of clashes between the communities in public spaces. What was seen in several cases of such violence during the pandemic is everyone feeding off the narrative that Muslims were ‘super spreaders’ of the virus.
According to Zohra, Muslim vegetable vendors in Shadab Garden, Lucknow, were beaten-up by the locals. Huma, who works with a Lucknow based NGO, found that the spaces used by vendors to setup carts/stalls were blocked. The sole reason was the biased misconception that ‘Muslims were bringing in the virus on the pretext of selling vegetables.‘
She had also seen a board outside a residential colony explicitly declaring, “No Muslims Allowed.”
Rabia, a Lucknow-based activist, corroborated this. She said that localities put up ad-hoc barricades to prevent Muslim vendors from entering. She had also come across vegetable sellers who changed their names to be able to continue their trade.
Communal Ruptures in Access to Healthcare
In Ahmedabad, Gujarat, the Civil Hospital placed COVID patients in different wards based on their religion following complaints from patients. While the hospital claimed that it was following the Gujarat government’s directive, the Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister of Gujarat denied these allegations. In April, a hospital in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh put out an advertisement claiming it would admit Muslim patients only after they submitted negative COVID results. The news of Tablighi members “not following safety guidelines (like using masks) and misbehaving with hospital staff” was used by the Valentis Hospital in Meerut to justify not taking in any new Muslim patients.
Setback to Education
The pandemic has posed a grave threat to education as schools had to be shut down, and classes were suddenly shifted online. This change further increased disparities within the education system as seen in a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report, which found that at least one-third of the world’s school-children could not access remote learning. Muslim children were at an additional disadvantage. They are less likely to own and know how to operate a computer, have internet access and are less likely to attend board-recognized schools compared to other religious groups, according to the 71st round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) on Education.
It’s All About an Unfair Fight
Starting from etch, Indians built up their lives, time and again, only to be barraged by communal violence. This despondency is only understood by those who know what it feels like to be in an unfair fight. Now Indian Muslims have been overwhelmed by fear; fear of the wrong sense, wrong virtue, only to be beheaded by loss of belonging.
With legal options yielding limited results, one group in Ahmedabad, as highlighted in the Bebaak report, demonstrated the potential of campaigning online to combat hate speech locally. A concerted campaign was initiated by members of the Muslim community to take legal action against TV channels, print and social media platforms. They lodged over 800 FIRs, leading to seven arrests of persons for spreading hate by labeling the Tablighi conference as a “terrorist conspiracy”.
Should People Revisit their Idea of India?
Indians had been ruined by plagues of slavery but were dependent on each other for cure. They were mangled by misery but soothed each other’s wounds. The people have, now and again, been traumatised but found peace in nobody else but one another. An Indian is murdered and an Indian lifts his coffin.
So, why are we always at each other’s throats the moment a misdirected slip occurs? Other nations should have been taking notes from us, of how to live in harmony in spite of differences, but all the majority community can think of is ousting the minority. Creating fences will never work. It never has. Instituting blockades that can’t be surpassed, curfews that can’t be defied, and armed anti-social workers that can’t be fought, damages a society beyond repair. That is not how a democracy works. A democracy is never partial to its people.
What India requires right now is willpower and the strength to fight. But not against each other. Just against the disease. To overthrow it and end the plague.
Featured Image Source: Bebaak Collective