In India the Coronavirus is Muslim

24th Apr 2020
In India the Coronavirus is Muslim

Migrant workers along with their family members walk to their villages amid the nationwide lockdown, in wake of coronavirus pandemic, at Delhi Uttar Pradesh Border, in New Delhi on March 28.(Credit: Amarjeet Kumar Singh/India)

Sheheen Kattiparambil

Despite having one of the lowest testing rates in the world, India has witnessed a spike in the spread of the Coronavirus with 6,412 confirmed cases and 200 dead as of April 10.

Surprisingly, this is not what dominates national news in India, prime-time debates and op-eds in major news outlets are instead preoccupied with investigating the Muslim connections to the spread of the virus.

This was following several Muslims being tested positive following their attendance at a meeting organised by the Tablighi Jamaat at their headquarters at Nizamuddin, Delhi, from March 10 to 15. Allegedly, a third of India’s total reported cases are now being connected to the meeting organised by the Jamaat.

The Tablighi Jamaat, which is a transnational Muslim organisation headquartered in Delhi, has now become the prime hotspot of Coronavirus in India.

This event has triggered the latest proliferation of Islamophobic headlines and anti-Muslim backlash. This comes barely a month after the anti-Muslim pogrom in Delhi led by right-wing Hindu organisations affiliated to the Modi Government, which left more than 60 dead and thousands injured and homeless.

The same Islamophobic sentiments are demonstrated in the Corona-Jihad neologism in which a pandemic is co-opted to this longstanding narrative in India.

For example, India TV did an investigative story with a running banner which read “Corona Aaya, Maulana Laya” (the Maulana has brought the virus.) Social media are abound with fake news backing the mainstream narrative as well as visuals of Muslims being attacked, abused and blamed for the spread of the virus.

This has been compounded by the pedalling of scores of videos on online platforms showcasing Muslims purposefully spitting in and contaminating food and water to infect Hindus with the virus. Since March 28, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad and #TablighiJamatVirus have been trending in India.

The Tablighi Jamaat conference was attended by over 2,000 delegates, with 214 of the attendees reportedly being foreigners hailing mainly from South Asian and central Asian countries.

At least 11 attendees have succumbed to the virus. Several attendees who have since returned to their respective states have tested positive, with Telangana and Tamil Nadu having the highest. Several parts of Nizamuddin have been barricaded and are being monitored by drones.

The Delhi Police has filed criminal charges against the Tablighi Jamaat leadership for defying the lockdown under the Epidemic Disease Act of 1897 and various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including criminal conspiracy.

The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and a hardcore proponent of right-wing Hindutva, Yogi Adityanath, has invoked the National Security Act against six members of the Tablighi Jamaat quarantined in his state.

Another prominent politician Raj Thackeray from Maharashtra has called for shooting dead the Tablighi Jamaat attendees who have tested positive rather than treating them. India, thus has the distinction of slapping colonial-era as well as national security legislation against its citizens affected by the virus.

To put things into perspective, the Tablighi Jamaat event was held from March 10 to 15, and this was two weeks before the commencement of the lockdown at this time the Indian Government had not issued any sort of emergency warnings.

On the contrary, on March 13, the Indian health ministry had announced that the coronavirus is not a health emergency. It was only a week later the Indian Government started to sense the serious nature of the growing pandemic and on March 22 Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, called for a morning to evening curfew the finale of which was celebrated by people thronging streets all over India.

It was only two days later, on the night of March 24 that Modi called for an immediate lockdown without providing any specifics throwing the entire country into chaos.

With all modes of transportation in lockdown, India was witness to hundreds of thousands of labourers forced to walk hundreds of miles back from the cities to their respective villages with reports of some of them dying on the way, reminiscent of partition-era migration.

Post-lockdown, several religious celebrations like Rama Navami (birthday of the Hindu God Rama) were held in various temples across India with political leaders in the congregation without risk of legal or criminal action.

Despite the holes and bias in the narrative, the Tablighi Jamaat as solely defying the lockdown and spearheading the spread of the virus in India has now become part of the Indian common sense. The Indian Government has resorted to Islamophobia to mask its mess in dealing with the pandemic.

Discussions on mainstream news channels like Republic TV and News Nation hinged on the ‘Muslimness’ of the scenario to connect the Tablighi Jamaat controversy to the Shaheen Bagh protests carried out by Muslim women in the ghettos of Delhi against the Citizen Amendment Act designed to strip Indian Muslims of their citizenship.

The chief of the ruling party’s IT cell chief, Amit Malviya in a tweet, summed up the last three months encompassing the anti-Modi protests led by Muslims, the pogroms in Delhi and the spreading of the virus as ‘Islamic insurrection.’

In most countries where the impetus has been on people uniting to fight the virus, India has proved that any context, be it the consumption of meat, be it allegations of ‘love jihad’ or even a pandemic can be racialized to justify lynchings and demonisation of Muslims.

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