23, Apr 2021 | Adeeti Singh
A recent report published by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) showcases how the entire Muslim community was demonised for the Coronavirus pandemic by the regime, and the media that drew a narrative that the Tablighi Jamaat gathering was “irresponsible” and a “super spreader”.
The Tablighi Jamaat is one of the grassroots Islamic reform movements started by Maulana Mohammad Ilyas in 1927 in Delhi.
The report titled, The Covid Pandemic: A Report on the Scapegoating of Minorities in India mentions how there was no attention paid to the number of events that took place a month before the national lockdown and the entire blame for the spread was pinned on the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi.
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Some events that took place as Covid was spreading
On March 3 last year, just 20 days before the lockdown, the Prime Minister had tweeted saying, “There is no need to panic. We need to work together, take small yet important measures to ensure self-protection”. Ten days before that, the Narendra Modi government had hosted the Namaste Trump event in Gujarat which saw hundreds of thousands of people congregating in Ahmedabad and Agra, paying no heed to maintaining physical distance.
To further point out the obvious vitriolic attacks on the Muslim community, on March 8, 2020, on International Women’s Day, an award ceremony was organised at Rashtrapati Bhawan where a large number of people including prominent citizens had gathered. On March 15, almost 1.5 lakh devotees had gathered in Kadiri town in Anantpur district in Andhra Pradesh for the chariot procession of the annual Kadiri Narasimha Swamy Brahmostavam.
In Kerala, a 10-day-long temple festival called Aatukal Pongala was held with the Kerala government’s permission that maintained that the festival could not be avoided as preparations had been going on for months, giving more importance to religious events rather than public health. In Uttar Pradesh, the State Chief Minister himself defied the nation-wide lockdown on the first day itself and went ahead with the Ram Navami event in Ayodhya.
Singling out Tablighi Jamaat
But as on March 30, when around 1,000 members of the Tablighi Jamaat were found at the Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi, who were said to have assembled from all over the country and abroad, from Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Kyrgyzstan etc. to participate in an annual gathering, they were labelled as super spreaders and were thereby vilified, humiliated and even booked under the Indian Penal Code and Epidemic Act.
The report says that from January 30, 2020 when India confirmed its first Coronavirus patient in Kerala to March 24, 2020 when the government imposed the nation-wide lockdown, the government’s response to the fast-spreading virus was lackluster. “It continued to focus on ‘imported cases’ and their contacts; it continued to maintain there was no community spread; and it allowed religious, social and political gatherings to happen,” read the report. But the Tablighi Jamaat was just made a convenient scapegoat to draw the attention of the people away from the failures and shortcomings of the government.
Given the fact that there already existed strong biases against Muslims, scapegoating Tablighi Jamaat, a sect within Muslims, it was but a matter of time when the blame shifted to the entire Muslim community and it became easy to mobilise other members of the majority community previously not convinced about the anti-Muslim rhetoric, in joining in the scapegoating of Muslims, as per CSSS. It was just easy given that the political power rested with the party which identifies itself with the majority community.
All foreign participants in the Jamaat were allowed to enter India by the Government of India, even the ones from Covid-19 hotspot countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. In addition to this, they were also allowed to travel to other states from Delhi. Until March 13, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare continued to maintain that the Covid-19 situation in India was not a health emergency and declared a strict lockdown 10 days later.
By the first week of March, Malaysia had identified the Tablighi Jamaat congregation there between February 27 and March 1, 2020, as a Covid 19 hotspot. In spite of this, the CSSS report states that the Indian government allowed the congregation to happen in Delhi and also allowed members from Malaysia and possibly participants who had attended the Malaysian event to enter India.
Ignoring the negligence of the Government, the authorities started evacuating the people residing at the Markaz in Delhi and shifted them to hospitals and quarantine facilities. And, finally on March 31, the Delhi Police Crime Branch filed FIRs against Maulana Saad and other members of Tablighi Jamaat for negligently acting to spread infection of disease, malignant act likely to spread infection of disease and disobedience to quarantine rule and also criminal conspiracy under various Indian laws.
The immediate impact of this was that the media that was focusing on the government’s failure to tackle the virus with inadequate healthcare infrastructure, now turned a blind eye towards the real problem and started blaming the community for the spread of coronavirus. The blame game was not limited to constant vilification and ostracisation, but also led to violence in many places.
Rumours started to spread that Muslims are going from village to village intentionally spitting to spread the virus. In Gumla district, Jharkhand, such a rumour had spread and a young man was found roaming near Bhadauli village and a group of people from the village attacked him. He was seriously injured. This led to a clash and one person died. In Bagalkot, Karnataka, two Muslim men were attacked accused of spreading coronavirus. They were made to kneel and apologise for doing so. It was shot on video and circulated on social media. In West Bengal, in Teriipaia town a rumour spread that “hundreds of Muslims” had been infected with Covid-19 and they were now infecting the Hindus in the town. The rumour triggered violence between the two communities and over three days, 45 Muslim homes were set on fire by mobs led by Hindus in May, 2020.
As per the report, various mosques were vandalised and many Muslims were also denied their basic right to medical help as a result of such hate. For instance, Valentis Cancer hospital in Meerut issued a newspaper advertisement announcing it will not admit Muslim patients unless they produce medical certificates confirming they are free of the virus. In Gujarat, the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, a government-run hospital, set aside 1200 beds for coronavirus patients but created separate wards for Hindu and Muslim patients.
Courts come to the rescue
But the report also highlights some pleasant developments during the Covid crisis with the courts and instances where the executive branch acted proactively to deal with such unprecedented times. The Bombay High Court slammed the government for malice in acting against Tablighi members, quashed FIRs and said, “There was big propaganda in print media and electronic media against the foreigners who had come to Markaz Delhi and an attempt was made to create a picture that these foreigners were responsible for spreading covid-19 virus in India. There was virtually persecution against these foreigners. A political Government tries to find the scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats.”
The apex court, on May 27, advised against communalising the pandemic. While hearing petitions seeking strict action against the media for communalisation of the Tablighi Jamaat, CJI SA Bobde stated, “Don’t let people instigate law and order issues, there are the things that later become law and order issues”.
In July, the Tamil Nadu Police had arrested 86 people for spreading communal hatred against the Muslim community linking them with Covid 19, said the report. The Additional Director General of Police CID (Crime), Shamsher Singh encouraged citizens to come forward to report hate campaigns across social media platforms and lodge police complaints, “We have been trying to get as many cases logged in the system as possible…. We have a very active cyber cell in Ahmedabad where most of such crimes generate. It helps more when people bring such issues to our notice. The more they report the better it is.”
The entire report may be read here:
*Feature Image courtesy: livemint.com