How Muslims Are Being Demonised In India Amid COVID-19 Crisis
Justice Markandey Katju writes about harassment and demonisation of Muslims in India, which has increased amid the coronavirus crisis.
Atrocities and harassment of Muslims have increased in India lately, and demonisation of Muslims as terrorists and an anti-national group has become not just a popular pastime but an obsession with many people. Particularly, many in the media, like TV anchors. I may give a few well-known instances:
Maulana Saad, head of Markaz, Tablighi Jamaat, has become a target of vilification, and even an FIR has been lodged against him for culpable murder under Section-304 Indian Penal Code, (there is a report that even Section 302 has now been added). His house has also been raided.
The allegation that he deliberately spread coronavirus in India is on its face, false and mischievous. Muslims have been gathering in the Markaz at Nizamuddin for decades, and so they did in March. Many had come from foreign countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, etc. and it is quite possible some had been infected with corona, which they unwittingly spread to others in the Jamaat. But to say this was deliberately done is absurd. So, the FIR against the Maulana is wholly unwarranted.
Some people ask why he does not surrender before the police. One can’t speculate the reason, but it is quite possible he is scared that third degree methods will be applied by the police if he does so.
Sharjeel Imam is in jail, facing a charge of sedition for his speech in Aligarh Muslim University against Citizen Amendment Act (2019), in which he allegedly called for cutting off Assam from India.
Sharjeel has a Master’s degree from Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, and is doing his PhD in Jawaharlal Nehru University. In his speech he had said “Assam aur India kat ke alag ho jaayen, tabhi yeh hamaari baat sunenge”, “Assam and India will have to be torn apart to have them listen to us”.
It is thus obvious that he was only seeking to draw attention of the government to the protest, not that he was serious about cutting off Assam from India.
Moreover, the speech did not incite to ‘imminent lawless action’ which is the Brandenburg test laid down by the United States Supreme Court, and followed by the Indian Supreme Court in Arup Bhuyan vs State of Assam. Furthermore, his speech was not beyond the protection of freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
Dr Kafeel Khan, a medical practitioner, paediatrician, was arrested on 29th January, 2020 in connection with his speech on 12th December, 2019 at an anti CAA protest in AMU in which he allegedly promoted enmity between religions, an offence under Section 153-A, Indian Penal Code.
But in his speech, which is available on YouTube, he had said nothing of the sort. He said that Mota Bhai i.e. Home Minister, Amit Shah, is converting Muslims into ‘second class citizens’. Referring to Amit Shah, he also said that he had no authority over Indian Muslims and could neither blackmail them with mob lynching, because they are a number as big as 25 crore in the Indian population. One finds it difficult to understand how these words attract Section 153-A, Indian Penal Code.
Dr Khan was granted bail, but immediately thereafter was re-arrested under the draconian National Security Act, and he is still in jail. He had earlier been arrested in 2017 for his alleged role in the death of over 60 children in
Baba Raghav Das Medical College Gorakhpur, due to short supply of oxygen cylinders in the hospital of the college. But in the investigation, it was revealed that Dr Khan had repeatedly informed the authorities about the shortage of oxygen cylinders, and during the crisis had paid money from his own pocket to get some cylinders for the patients.
In the recent Delhi riots, in February, 2020, Muslims were selectively targeted by mobs of hooligans, with police often remaining mute bystanders, or even covertly supporting the assailants.
In a govt hospital in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, a pregnant woman was refused admission because she was a Muslim, and consequently her baby died.
Coronavirus conspiracy theories are targeting Indian Muslims, particularly those in any way connected with Tablighi Jamaat, as spreaders of the disease. This is despite the statement issued by the Indian Scientists Response to Covid-19 group that “the available data does not support the speculation that the blame for the corona virus epidemic in India lies mainly with Tablighi Jamaat”.
Hashtags such as ‘corona jihad’, ‘corona terrorism’ and ‘corona bombs Tablighi’ have trended on Twitter, and tweets with #CoronaJihad have appeared nearly 300,000 times, and potentially seen by 165 million people on Twitter. Mainstream media repeatedly asserted that Tablighi Jamaat members are ‘super spreaders’, and there are demands they should be shot. They are accused of spitting on doctors and health workers, defecating in the hospital wards, misbehaving with nurses, throwing bottles of urine and demanding chicken biryani. It is alleged, that their aim is to infect as many people as possible — allegations which remind one of Goebbels’ dictum: the bigger the lie the easier it will be swallowed.
What is overlooked is that while Tablighi Jamaat may have been short sighted in holding a congregation at this time, there are dozens of examples of other religious or political groups which also flouted the coronavirus guidelines and gathered in large numbers together. The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh reportedly attended a major Hindu celebration on March 25, although there was a nationwide shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers had crowded together in various places, and surely these were not all Muslims.
Slums like that in Dharavi had a corona positive patient who was not a Muslim. Yet the whole focus is on Muslims, as if they alone spread corona, and in recent days there has been an attack and harassment of Muslims in many parts of India.
In Karnataka, an audio clip began to be shared widely over WhatsApp urging people not to allow Muslim fruit and vegetable sellers into their areas, claiming they were spreading the virus through their merchandise. In Mangalore posters appeared, saying no Muslims were allowed in certain neighbourhoods. One poster said: No Muslim trader will be allowed access to our home town till corona has totally gone. In the village, Ankanahalli, the village panchayat president issued a warning that if any Hindu is caught fraternising with a Muslim he will be fined 500 to 1000 rupees.
Many similar examples can be picked up from different parts of India, showing how, over 200 million Indian Muslims are being vilified and demonised. It was already getting dangerous to be a Muslim in India, then came coronavirus. As said by an Assistant Professor in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, “Islamophobia has been transposed on the corona issue”.
In my article ‘Bad days are ahead for Indian Muslims’ published in nayadaur.tv I had painted a grim picture for the future of Indian Muslims. With corona, the scenario has become grimmer.
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.