It took influential Arab anger to make India notice hate speech

Threat of a diplomatic crisis draws a few words of wisdom, that were missing when anti-Muslim hate spread faster than the Coronavirus, in India.

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“India’s Muslims are prosperous; those trying to vitiate atmosphere can’t be their friends”said Minorities Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi after criticism from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

By making such effusive statements Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi seems to be in fire firefighting mode after hate speech by bigoted NRIs working and living in the Middle East evoked strong reaction from the leadership there. The online army of NRIs were making statements they were encouraged to by the fact that their online counterparts here in India had been getting away with hate speech for a long time now. Most of the hate speech and fake news spreaders claim to be followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter. Many of them have a massive online following, especially if they are  politicians, journalists, sportspersons, or from the Indian film fraternity.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has never called out their hate agenda and his silence has only encouraged them. It has taken collective outrage from influential names from the Arab world for the PM to make a statement such as this: “COVID-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking. Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood.” This was posted by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on April 19 

This is the first such statement from the PM himself, after days of silence even as scores of incidents of violence, and discrimination against Muslims were being reported on a daily basis, from across the country. It has taken the imminent threat of a diplomatic crisis between India and the Middle East region for the PM to speak up.

The Covid-19 pandemic has given a massive boost to the dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric that was echoing across India and spread by prominent politicians, and compliant media houses, months before. Through the winter of 2019, and well into spring of 2020 the hate speech has gotten worse. The political silence, and the timely calls for peace between communities was missing then too. The violence In North-East Delhi, that followed the nationwide Anti CAA-NRC-NPR protests was also met with deafening political silence.

However, in the past two days, the Indian leadership has taken to social media to send words of assurance, not to the Muslim community directly, but more to an international audience. Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is a case in point when he said: “India is heaven for Muslims; their social, economic and religious rights are secure” 

No minister has addressed the nation on the need to stop the anti-Muslim hate and socio-economic boycott, even as the Coronavirus crisis rages on. The crisis has not stopped the attack, and arrest of activists, journalists, and common Muslim citizens, in fact it has increased in the last few weeks, in some areas.  

“The situation is approaching, genocidal,” said writer and activist Arundhati Roy in an interview to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) According to Roy, the Indian  authorities were using Covid19 against Muslims in the same way that “typhus was used against the Jews to stigmatise them.”  

The online army loyal to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has proven that by posting hate against Indian Muslims, and linking everyone to the sect Tablighi Jamaat. The Jammat’s disastrous decision to hold its annual event in Delhi in March has resulted in many of its members and their contacts testing Covid19 positive. These have fueled news, including fake news, across the country with some TV news anchors fanning the communal flames on prime time.

No new reports of mass testing, and the results of such tests have come from the other religious, cultural gatherings, weddings and birthdays that had happened during the same time, and some even after the national lockdown was announced on March 25 onwards. Those were not Muslim gatherings perhaps. Muslims are the only ones now under Coronavirus scrutiny it appears. Euphemisms like ‘single source spreaders’ are being used to say that it was Muslim’s who are spreading Coronavirus across India.

“The RSS to which Modi belongs, has long said India should be a Hindu nation… Its ideologies have likened the Muslims of India to the Jews of Germany,” Roy told DW, adding “Modi tries to play the statesman but he is quiet when it happens. The massacre happened when Trump was here. Trump said nothing.”

She urged the world not to take this stigmatisation of Muslims lightly, “You can hear it everywhere… it comes with the threat of extreme violence.. they have built detention centres for that citizenship law… now this will dovetail… to create something which the world should keep its eye on. I cannot exaggerate the threat more…,” she told Deutsche Welle.  Arundhati Roy’s interview went viral in the UAE.  

While the rest of the world’ is mostly mute to the communal crisis unfolding in India in the shadow of the Covid19 emergency, the United Arab Emirates has been taking action against Indian hate spreaders based there.

Pavan Kapoor, Indian Ambassador to the UAE, has warned expats working in the region that any discrimination will not be tolerated and that: “India and UAE share the value of non-discrimination on any grounds. Discrimination is against our moral fabric and the Rule of law. Indian nationals in the UAE should always remember this.” 

Online hate speech by Indian expatriates has been called out by prominent Emiratis including a member of the Royal family. Sharjah Princess Hend Faisal Al Qassemi, had  tweeted angry responses to such posts. “The ruling family is a friend of Indians, but as a royal, your rudeness is not welcome.  You make your bread and butter from this land, which you scorn and your ridicule will not go unnoticed.” She posted a series of tweets and warned those indulging in communal hate speech that they were violating the UAE laws and will be penalised accordingly.


She also spoke to NDTV on the issue and later posted a link to the interview saying the hate should stop: “knew India, the country of Gandhi, a country which suffered enough. The whole world is on its nerves with Covid19, but the hate should stop. Namaste”

Ambassador Pavan Kapoor’s social media statement is an visible attempt to firefight a crisis that started when Indians working in the Arab countries posted bigoted opinions linking Indian Muslims with Coronavirus, on social media. A few of them were terminated from service by their employers who put in action, their zero tolerance policies on such matters. 

Thousands of Indian’s working in the Emirates are anyway facing job losses across industries, as Covid19 has forced companies to downsize, and put operations on hold. According to The Hindu’s report it has created a “diplomatic strain for New Delhi, even as it negotiates with UAE officials who have been pushing for India to repatriate thousands of citizens who have lost jobs with companies in the Emirates due to COVID-19.” An estimated 3.3 million Indians live and work in the UAE, states the report.

Islamic human rights bodies are also taking notice and calling out Indian government’s silence on the issue. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has asked India to “halt violence against Muslims in the country during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic” say news reports. “In a statement, the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC), an expert human rights body with the OIC, condemned a “vicious” campaign in India against Muslims being accused of spreading the coronavirus” reported the Trukish news portal Anadolu Agency.

The “OIC-IPHRC condemns the unrelenting vicious #Islamophobic campaign in #India maligning Muslims for spread of #COVID-19 as well as their negative profiling in media subjecting them to discrimination & violence with impunity,” it said on Twitter. “#OIC-IPHRC urges the #Indian Govt to take urgent steps to stop the growing tide of #Islamophobia in India and protect the rights of its persecuted #Muslim minority as per its obligations under int’l [international] HR law.”

The OIC rights body has asked the Indian authorities to “protect the country’s nearly 200 million Muslims from Islamophobic campaigns.” The IPHRC issued a statement and said that the “Anti-Muslim violence and condemnation has further mounted due to anti-Muslim media coverage rife in the country.” Arundhati Roy had called such media, especially TV news Anchors as lynch mobs.


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