A Indian Muslim woman wearing a protective mask leaves after attending congregational Friday prayers at the historic Jama Masjid. PHOTO: AFP

India needs to defeat communalism and Covid-19

We are now at a stage where a substantial chunk of Hindus in India blame Muslims for the virus

Sanjay Kumar April 18, 2020
Eventually, India will recover from this global pandemic and emerge from the crisis which has currently gripped the world. However, the big question remains, can this nation survive the sectarian virus that has seeped deep into the pores of its society? Can this nation ever rid itself of majoritarian communalism? While the coronavirus is occupying the national consciousness today, an equal space is also being occupied by the home grown epidemic of hatred towards the Muslim minority.

News reports in India not only talk about the fight against the Covid-19 but they also discuss in the same breath the anti-Muslim environment that has engulfed the country. The concept of  social distancing that was meant to maintain a physical gap between individuals has taken the form of the social ostracisation of Muslims in some parts of the country.

Recently, an Islamic missionary group called the Tablighi Jamaat held their seminar in Delhi, at a time when the coronavirus was gaining a foothold in India. The gathering resulted in the outbreak of hundreds of coronavirus cases across India which were linked back to the meeting. Since many individuals from across India and the world attended the weeks long congregation, this resulted in not only the attendees being infected but also led to them carrying the virus to other localities, cities, and countries when they travelled. This particular incident came to light after nine infected people in the Andaman and Nicobar islands revealed their links to the Tablighi Jamaat. Additionally, the nationwide locked announced on March 24th had left many of the attendees with no option but to remain holed up inside the building, which is why 2500 people were still inside the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters. These revelations, and the infections which had been passed on as a result, came as a shock to a nation trying to implement a strict lockdown.

Undeniably, the Tablighi Jamaat made a grave mistake and risked many lives in the process. It is still not clear exactly how many cases of coronavirus are linked to this gathering, but so far the authorities estimate that more than 1000 cases in India are a result of the congregation. However, the media reports and fake videos which appeared after the incident tried to blame the Muslim community alone for the spread of the virus. Talk-show hosts and a strong section of the print media turned the entire coronavirus debate into a war against India’s Muslim. Suddenly the pandemic was seen by some as a ‘Muslim virus’ meant to destroy ‘Hindu India’. As a result, containment of the virus took the shape of containment of Muslims in many areas. A fake video showing Muslims apparently defying the quarantine and misbehaving with medical personnel only further consolidated the anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

Muslim vendors in some areas were stopped from selling their products inside predominantly Hindu localities. Discrimination against Muslims is now also taking place in Indian hospitals, with a government hospital in Gujarat now segregating patients based on religion. Hence, the existing lack of trust many Muslims in the country have against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has only been further accentuated.

Given the inability of the government to counter this narrative, we are now at a stage where a substantial chunk of Hindus in India blame Muslims for the virus. Some analysts believe that since the government failed to properly implement the nationwide lockdown, which resulted in migrant workers across India coming out onto the streets out of desperation, the media played the communal card in order to protect the government from criticism. The question has also been raised about the lack of attention given to similar kinds of transgressions by other religious groups and spiritual gurus in the country.

The growing distrust between Hindu and Muslims comes on the heels of the recent violence in Delhi, where more than 50 people lost their lives, mostly Muslims. The violence was a retaliation against the protests by Indians who oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Minorities also fear the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), which aims to find all the ‘genuine citizens of India’. Muslims fear that if their names are not mentioned in the NRC then they will be expelled from the country while members of Hindu communities would find protection under CAA.

It is increasingly evident that the economic impact of the coronavirus on India will be devastating and could result in mass unemployment. It may take years to tackle the economic fallout left in the wake of this crisis. But a divided nation debilitates any efforts to regroup and battle this pandemic. The virus of communalism threatens India’s secular and liberal identity. A majoritarian India should be feared just as much as a pandemic, and the country cannot afford to live with either one of them.
Sanjay Kumar The author is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asian and international politics. He tweets as @destinydefier (https://twitter.com/destinydefier).
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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