The spread of Coronavirus in India has been on the upswing despite the measures undertaken by the state. In most parts of India the suffering has been immense. The central Government took up the issue of Covid 19 with a great amount of delay. From early February WHO started warning the Governments all around about the impending dangers of the pandemic. That time Indian Government was busy in organising ‘Namaste Trump’ and the ruling party at Centre was busy with the operation Kamal to overthrow the Congress Government in MP.
As The Janata Curfew was declared on March 22 and total lockdown on March 24, the issue started being taken up seriously. To shirk the responsibility of the state, it found a very convenient target. The Tablighi Jamaat’s (TJ) seminar (March 13-15) in Markaz Nizamuddin was blamed for the spread of Corona by the Government and then by the media. Definitely some lapses must have occurred in organising the seminar at this time, and a large assembly taking place during a pandemic is inexcusable at one level.
At the same time thousands of people had come to India for the event ‘Namaste Trump’. Nearly two lakh people were exposed to this event. The Temples and Mutt congregations were going on. The TJ people had come to India with due permissions and screenings at airports. Despite all this the move to blame them for spreading Corona just exemplified the mind set and political manoeuvre of the Government. Demonising Tablighis was to target the whole Muslim Community of country.
The Godi (Lap) Media (or Communal media) went hysterical in proclaiming that Tablighis were deliberately spreading the disease as per the plan. This is their ‘Corona Jihad’ and they are preparing ‘Corona Bomb’ in Markaz, which is at stone’s throw from the police station of the area! The reach of this section of media is astounding. It got picked up and ‘Muslims are deliberately spreading the disease’ became part of the ‘common social understanding’. The impact on social life was instant. Muslim truck drivers at places had to run away to escape the mobs. The Muslim vegetable vendors were beaten up at places and not permitted in many housing colonies.
After some of these Tablighis were quarantined and admitted to hospitals, it was a heyday for the fake news makers. What started doing rounds was that these Tablighis are making obscene gestures to nurses, are spitting, and are moving in the wards without clothes. All this gave grist to the mill of Islamophobia, already peaking in India. Police promptly went into action and cases were launched against the Tablighis who had come from abroad. The cases filed were under various clauses related to violation of VISA rules, spreading the epidemic, and also preaching Islam.
In a couple of judgments on the issue, the role of media and police has come from scathing criticism. The blatant falsehood of FIR’s and the propaganda of the section of Media stand exposed. In its judgement, the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High court’s observations remarkably reflect the state of affairs of the attitude of police and media towards Muslims. The High Court clearly stated that the action against Tablighis is an attempt to find the scapegoat for Covid-19. It observes, “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 aforesaid circumstances and the latest figures of infection in India show that such action against present petitioners should not have been taken.” And further critiquing the media, the Court observes, “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.”
The judgment should go down as a case study of the attitude of state (police) and media towards its religious minorities in the country as those Muslims who came from aboard for seminars or touring the country were harassed to no end. The Court states, “This action indirectly gave warning to Indian Muslims that action in any form and for any thing can be taken against Muslims. It was indicated that even for keeping contact with Muslims of other countries, action will be taken against them. Thus, there is smell of malice to the action taken against these foreigners and Muslim for their alleged activities. The circumstances like malice are important consideration when relief is claimed of quashing of F.I.R. and the case itself.”
Incidentally as Covid-19 shows us that those who matter and those who spread information are totally biased and look for scapegoats among Muslims, it also shows that there are some who are treated as Holy Cows. In the recent Delhi violence most of those who have been targeted are those who were active in protests against the Government in anti CAA-NRC agitations. Those who gave provocative speeches; ‘Desh Ke Gaddaron ko’ (Anurag Thakur), ‘There are rapists amongst those participating in the protests’ (Parvesh Varma) and ‘We will dislodge them physically’ (Kapil Mishra), are very much moving around while those who talked of peaceful protests are under the scanner.
Similar attitude was also observed in the series of bomb blasts, which shook the country between 2006-2008. Just one example will suffice, in the aftermath of Makkah Masjid blast (Hyderabad) scores of Muslim youth were arrested right away. They were released again by Court for the lack of any credible evidence. In the Malegaon blast case… ditto, one of the accused in the blast Pragya Thakur is on bail and has become the law maker. In practice what is ruling is the biased attitude, targeting some for their religion and exonerating others, again for their belonging to a particular religion!
* The writer is a human rights defender and a former professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay).