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Muslims killed and injured as Indian Government exploits the Coronavirus to demonise Muslims

22nd May 2020
Muslims killed and injured as Indian Government exploits the Coronavirus to demonise Muslims

Muslim owners of shops at Tyre Market, Gokulpuri, North East Delhi, inspect the remains of their shops on March 7, the shops were set ablaze by Hindu rioters on February 25 (Photo: Imtiyaz Khan/Anadolou Agency)

Sajeda Haider

The Covid-19 pandemic has spared none. It has affected people of all religions, race, class and creed all over the world. However, in India, the supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have managed to turn even the Coronavirus into a weapon they can use to demonize and ostracize Muslims.

Ever since Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24 giving only four-hour notice, Islamophobic incidents have been taking place in many places across the country, particularly in states where the BJP is in power or have a large support base.

Muslim vegetable vendors have been abused, beaten and thrown out of Hindu residential areas, and a video made by a far-right Hindu outfit urging Hindus to only buy vegetables from Hindu vendors and not from Muslims has gone viral.

Bakeries are traditionally a Muslim preserve, but again Hindu Nationalists have urged Hindus not to buy from Muslim bakeries in some states. Most recently, a bakery in Tamil Nadu, a state in south India ruled by a BJP-ally, advertised that they did not employ any Muslim staff.

The owner of Jain Bakeries and Confectioneries boasted that all his baked goods were ‘Made by Jain on orders, No Muslim staff’. After the advert was highlighted on social media, the police arrested the owner for hurting religious sentiments and an intent to breach the peace.

In their defence, the staff at the bakery said that a WhatsApp message was circulating asking people not to buy bakery products made by Muslims and thus they put up the advertisement to “clear the air.”

A large Government hospital in Ahmedabad in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in western India, Ahmedabad Civil hospital, went to the extent of segregating Covid-19 patients on the basis of religion.

There were separate wards for Hindu and Muslim patients. The administration of the hospital claimed that it had been done on the instruction of the BJP Government ruling the state, however, the Government, as usual, denied it had given any such orders.

Selective bias against Indian Muslims first emerged at the end of March when India saw its biggest single-day spike in cases of Covid-19 with 227 new cases in 24 hours.

The central Government blamed the surge of the Coronavirus cases on the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim group with more than 80 million adherents worldwide, which had held a meeting between March 13 and 15 in New Delhi where around 16,000 people had gathered, many of them from foreign countries.

The Tablighi Jamaat event was held with full Government permission and had done nothing illegal as India had not banned large congregations until then. The Government shifted responsibility for not screening or quarantining foreigners who entered India in mid-March despite the pandemic raging in certain parts of the world on to the Jamaat.

Some 400 Corona positive cases were found in India among those who had assembled in New Delhi, of whom 10 died. In all subsequent Government briefings, the Tablighi Jamaat event was called ‘super-spreader’ and blamed for the rise in Covid-19 cases in India.

Despite the World Health Organisation expressing disapproval for profiling cases on the basis of race, religion and ethnicity, profiling had been done. A tsunami of fake news followed.

Pro-government television channels and social media led by the BJP’s IT cell began accusing those who attended the Tablighi congregation and Indian Muslims in general of not just being responsible for the outbreak but deliberately spreading it. The term ‘Corona Jihad’ and hashtag #TablighiJamaatVirus were coined.

Fake videos on social media claimed to show Muslim men spitting on food, licking plates and sneezing in unison to spread the virus.
A fact-checking platform called Media Scanner compiled a list of 69 fake videos against Muslims and listed at least 28 attacks on Muslims up until April 21.

There have been more since then. Rumours about Muslim intentionally spitting to spread the virus led to clashes in Jharkhand in central India. A youth was beaten to death and two others severely injured in the incident.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has been turned into yet another Islamophobic conspiracy theory. Physical, verbal and psychological warfare is being waged against Muslims, pushing further their ostracisation in Indian society,” says Apoorvanand, Professor at Hindi Department at the University of Delhi.

The BJP-led Government did nothing to stop the spiralling stigmatization and rising hate crimes against Muslims and Prime Minister Modi maintained his usual silence on the subject. However, on April 19 the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation finally criticized the “growing Islamophobia” in India.

The 57-member body, many of which are India’s strategic partners and whose leader Modi touts as his personal friends, criticized the “unrelenting vicious Islamophobic campaign in India maligning Muslims for the spread of Covid-19 as well as their negative profiling in media subjecting them to discrimination and violence with impunity.”

Within an hour of the OIC’s criticism, Prime Minister Modi spoke up for the first time. He tweeted, “Covid-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or border before striking. Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together.”

While many felt Modi’s comment was too generic and it was a case of too little, too late, it had some effect in that Government officials stopped giving out separate figures of those infected by the Tablighi Jamaat and calling them a super-spreader in its daily Coronavirus briefings. However, the fake news and BJP troll army have still not stopped.

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