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Communal hate is seeing a spike amid the coronavirus outbreak. On behalf of organizations like PUCL Rajasthan, AUMA Foundation, Center for Equity Studies (Rajasthan), Nirman and General Labour Union, Majdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and Helping Hands (Jaipur) among others, their representatives have penned a letter to various the police and other authorities in Rajasthan, Jaipur and Jodhpur bringing to their awareness how Muslims have been made the scapegoat of Coronavirus.
Their letter read, “The electronic and print media communalised the case of the Tabligh Jamaat, including the Government which put out data on the spread of the illness, with Tabligh Jamaat related cases as a separate column. We can understand its significance as a part of an internal monitoring process for this public health crisis. But it helped communalise the problem. However all this has caused a section of the already paranoid ordinary middle class and lower middle class to see the Muslim community as a transmitter of the epidemic.”
In Jaipur, the representatives of the organizations said, due to the communalization, Muslim fruit and vegetable vendors are allegedly being prevented from entering the public space of housing colonies.
In Jodhpur too, they said, “The Hindu neighbourhood fearing that the Muslim Mazdoors living next door maybe transmitters of the illness came and broke the doors of their house in the middle of the night and verbally abused the individuals.” Though after this, the police drove away the aggressive neighbours, the next day, 17 Muslim migrant mazdoors (workers) shifted to other colonies for the fear of being attacked again.”
Testimonies of discrimination
· They have presented a testimony of two fruit sellers – Safdar and Faiz who were threatened, beaten up and verbally abused by the residents and the police.
· Md. Rafi, Safdar and Faiz’s brother who is also a street vendor recounted his plight to the representatives. While a woman was out to buy fruits from his cart, another woman from a nearby grocery store called out to her and showed her a video on her cell phone. Rafi and the representatives think it could likely be the video of a Muslim man licking fruits. During this, he overheard the woman saying that they won’t buy from him anymore. They declined. A customer who had bought fruits from him right before the lady came looking for him with his son on a bike and demanded to know his name and see his Adhaar card. Rafi showed them an image of his Adhaar he had on his mobile and asked why they wanted it. The customer then calmed down and told him the lady mentioned above had told him he will get corona from Rafi’s fruits. Rafi says policemen have also been talking to vendors, especially Muslims very badly and saying they are spreading corona. The Jamaat issue from Delhi is being brought up again and again. Two other sellers he knew, a Hindu and a Muslim, were asked to carry their ID cards at all time by the police when they were doing their rounds.
· Faizal, a fruit seller in Jaipur for the past 7 – 8 years too had a similar story. A person who ran a medical shop in the area where he sells his fare told him that Muslims spread corona. When Faizal responded saying that it was a disease which could happen to anyone, he was threatened by the man in the medical shop who said that Faizal should be grateful that he wasn’t calling the police and asked him not to be seen in the area lest he wants his limbs broken. Some women too asked him to show his ID and said, “Aap 35 sector wale jamaati hain aur aap corona faila rahe hain (you are related to the jamaat and you are spreading corona).”
In Jodhpur too, a similar situation prevailed. The statement read, “The Nagori gate police took their photo identities for its records. When they moved to the new area, somebody tipped the police of newcomers in the area. This got the local Thana to interrogate them once again and collect their documents. Later a team of doctors was called in who got them screened through a thermal scanners and found all of them without a health risk. The Mazdoors who are skilled embroidery workers, are now in a Muslim Ghetto and requested that they donot want any further action as they have had enough of people and police interrogation.”
In Bharatpur, a pregnant woman who was a Muslim was allegedly denied health care facilities which led to the death of the baby.
The representatives fear that this communalization can become the precursor to lynching. The statement read, “As on the social media amongst the people of the majoritarian community, one of the main discourse is the Muslim as transmitter, through licking plates, spitting n fruit and other means. We reiterate that before this becomes a reason for lynching and harming and injuring the Muslim community people and before we see the people of the Muslim community retaliate, this rising expression of hate, should be stopped at the earliest.”
The organizations also condemned the police brutality against people stepping out to buy food and medicines. They said, “With the supplies of cooked food, dry rations being so erratic, that people are bound to step out. Images of police beating up women, old men and then two days ago in Jaipur the Bhatta Basti Thana, also raised their batons to beat up activists Nisha Sidhu of NFIW and Sumitra Chopra, Jaipur District secretary, CPIM, when they went to rescue one woman who had been beaten up by the police. In Chandpole area, one person who took food regularly from us shared how he broke his bones, as he had stepped out to fetch food.”
The organizations have demanded that –
· Firstly the police machinery requires to be educated and they have to be reassured not to fear the poor Muslim. As they also end up targeting the poor Muslim.
· Secondly, the ordinary citizen of the state also has to be reassured and explained that no one community is a transmitter, despite the Tabligh Jamaat experience.
· Third, a section of the Muslim community is feeling humiliated and agitated, and this could snowball into retaliatory violence. We need to ensure them that the law violators will be brought to book so that they do not take law into their own hands.
The complete letter by the organizations may be read below.