India: Coronavirus lockdown used to defame, arrest and silence Muslim activists

19th Jun 2020
India: Coronavirus lockdown used to defame, arrest and silence Muslim activists

Pregnant post-grad student and civil rights activist Safoora Zargar has been held in Tihar Jail since April 15 (Credit: Anzer Ayoob/WikiCommons)

M Ghazali Khan

At a time when the rest of the world is anxiously occupied with minimizing the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and his coterie are busy exploiting the very virus to polarize a nation and maximize political gains.

Not only are Muslims accused of spreading the virus, but civil rights organizers of protests against India’s notorious citizenship laws are being rounded up and jailed.

Safoora Zarghar, a 27-year-old MA student at Jamia Millia Islamia University is one of the most active students who had played a leading role in organising the 101 days-long sit-in protest (December 14, 2019, to March 24, 2020) in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh neighbourhood.

The protest attended mainly by female students, became a symbol of resistance that gave unprecedented courage to Muslim women to fearlessly descend on the streets, to challenge one of the most brutal governments in the world.

The Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh Protest inspired several similar sit-ins across the country all of which were cancelled because of the fear of the coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown.

Taking advantage of the lockdown, the Hindu Nationalist BJP Government launched a campaign to arrest and terrorise the protestors who vowed to return to the streets against the ignoble citizenship laws, once the coronavirus pandemic was over.

Zarghar, charged under India’s draconian anti-terror laws, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, has been in Delhi’s notoriously overcrowded Tihar Jail since March 25 when the lockdown was declared.

As is common practice in India, false charges have been used against her including making inflammatory speeches and being part of a conspiracy to instigate “communal violence” (read anti-Muslim riots).

A judge in a Delhi court dismissed, on June 4, Zarghar’s bail application as meritless. Far from being sympathetic to her ordeal of being charged under a fabricated case, BJP supporters trolled her online, insinuating she is unmarried and her unborn child illegitimate.

In sharp contrast to their indifference towards a pregnant Muslim woman, leading politicians and Bollywood celebrities went out of their way to shed tears for a pregnant elephant killed on May 17, in Kerala after eating a pineapple filled with firecrackers.

Only to make herself a laughing-stock, the infamous Islamophobe BJP MP Maneka Gandhi — who has been unmoved by the hardships faced by migrant workers, thousands of them women — even made a failed attempt to put the blame of the killing of the pregnant elephant on Muslims and turn the incident into a Hindu-Muslim dispute.

Referring to it as a “murder”, she attributed blame to the Muslim-majority district of Malappuram which she alleged, “is famous for such incidents, its India’s most violent district. For instance, they throw poison on roads so that 300-400 birds and dogs die at one time.” The elephant was killed not in Malappuram but Palakkad District.

Retorting, Kerala Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, tweeted, ‘We are saddened by the fact some have used this tragedy to unleash a hate campaign. Lies built upon inaccurate descriptions and half-truths were employed to obliterate the truth. Some even tried to import bigotry into the narrative. Wrong priorities [sic]’

Several other anti-CAA protesters have also been arrested in different parts of the country. Like the cruelty meted out on Zarghar, the story of Khalid Saifi of United Against Hate (UAH) group is also outrageous.

Video clips circulated on social media show him walking and fit at the time of his arrest, February 26, for his alleged role in the anti-Muslim riots in Delhi.

Yet, he arrived in court on a wheelchair and unable to even stand. On June 7 he was booked under a third preliminary police report (aka First Information Reports) related the Delhi riots.

In a statement, UAH said, “After being brutally tortured, he was taken into custody. Police have since booked him under two more First Information Reports.

They are desperate to frame him as a conspirator in the Delhi Riots case. Khalid Saifi is a diabetic patient and only earning member of his family and his wife and kids are completely dependent on him.

Yet to expect any humane treatment from the Delhi Police, who are constantly targeting and framing anti-CAA activists in false cases of Delhi riots, is quite far-fetched.”

Reports have come in from different parts of India of vicious campaigns launched by BJP activists and supporters advocating the socio-economic boycott of Muslims.

Several video clips and photographs have been circulating on social media, especially from Uttar Pradesh, a state ruled by one of the vilest Islamophobe Chief Ministers, Yogi Adityanath, showing police barging in and ransacking Muslims’ houses, manhandling and misbehaving even with women and children.

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