Coronavirus Pandemic Is The New Pretext To Crush Muslims In India
There has been a surge of anti-Muslim rhetoric, a narrative that has been serving well to BJP’s Hindutva agenda which can seriously threaten relief efforts amid COVID-19 breakout. As of April 20, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has topped 17,869 and 567 deaths have been reported. Is the pandemic and loss of lives not enough to shake up the conscience of BJP’s leaders? For weeks, videos have been circulating on WhatsApp falsely suggesting that Muslims might be deliberately spreading the virus. Several television channels added to the false accusations by attributing blame to a meeting of the Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat. Bigots are using this as an excuse to express hatred against 200 Million Muslims.
Phrases like “corona jihad” spread through social media. “Since March 28, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad have appeared nearly 300,000 times and potentially seen by 165 million people on Twitter, according to data shared with TIME”
Even worse, political leaders have joined the nefarious chorus. BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya called it an “Islamic insurrection of sorts”. “It needs a fix!” he declared . Indian authorities have linked corovavirus pandemic with Tablighi Jamaat. “Islamophobia has been transposed onto the coronavirus issue,” an assistant professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi Amir Ali said.
This is the time to be responsible, responsive and humane. India would not be able to cleanse off the blemish of hatred this time.
Hospitals are being ‘told’ to segregate patients based on religion. The US Committee on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan panel of experts appointed by Congress, has said that it was “concerned with reports of Hindu and Muslim patients separated into separate hospital wards in Gujarat,” reported UK based INDEPENDENT. “Such actions only help to further increase ongoing stigmatisation of Muslims in India and exacerbate false rumours of Muslims spreading Covid-19.”
The social distancing’ definition is being adapted to fit the hatred rhetoric. Lockdowns have already become an instrument for discriminatory practice. The term social distancing is being politically manipulated to engineer public’s perceptions and instill the ‘fear of the stranger’. We are witnessing the rise of new Reich in India. World community can no longer play deaf and dumb to the inhumane treatment of minorities in India and draconian curfew in Kashmir for 260 days now.
COVID-19 started as a health crisis, and now it has become a communal and political issue. The rhetoric of fear and Islamophobia has already led to violent attacks on Muslims. A 22-year-old man, accused of conspiring to spread COVID-19, was attacked in Delhi. In Punjab, Muslim herders were allegedly forced to throw away hundreds of litres of milk, because of rumours that they were spreading coronavirus through milk. At least 50 people died and more than 250 have been injured in mob attacks by BJP supporters since May 2015 amid rumours that the victims traded or killed cows for beef.
Human Rights Watch found that India’s discriminatory new citizenship law and proposed policies have spurred further violence against Muslims. Fears that many Indian Muslims will be stripped of their citizenship rights have been circulating.
Much needs to be done to end this stigmatisation, including public statements condemning vigilante violence and biased treatment by government officials. The authorities should prosecute people involved in threats and attacks. But most of all, the ruling party needs to abandon its divisive anti-Muslim politics. Otherwise, this health crisis could turn into a ticking time bomb for India’s unity and stability.
The writer is a content editor and an independent researcher based in Lahore.