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Along with its more than 37,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,200 deaths so far, India is battling another threat. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced national confinement on March 25, 2020, Islamophobia cases have intensified and many prominent news channels have been charged with adding fuel to the fire.
This sudden revival in Islamophobia by COVID-19 is related to an encounter organized by Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary group, which took place in the Indian capital the day before national confinement was declared on 24 March. The event was severely accused of the increase in COVID-19 cases in India.
While Islamophobia against the Indian Muslim population has been increasing slowly since Modi took office in 2014, with numerous lynchings, riots and mass attacks, the trolley armies used the Tablighi Jamaat gathering to attack Muslims on social media and elsewhere.
Leaders of the ruling Indian People's Party (BJP) referred to the Jamaat meeting as “Taliban crime” and “corona-terrorism”. The label #CoronaJihad (coronayihad) quickly went viral and fake news plagued social media.
He was compounded by allegations that right-wing groups in India, including those related to the BJP, spread rumors and harassed innocent people as part of a campaign to accuse Muslims of spreading COVID-19.
The side effects are disastrous: some Indian hospitals have already started denying Muslims admission. On April 19, as coronavirus Islamophobia skyrocketed, local media reported the deaths of two newborn babies after hospitals in Jamshedpur denied admission to Muslim mothers.
The Muslim Rizwana Khatun, who turned out pregnant and bleeding at the Jharkhand hospital, suffered a miscarriage after being denied treatment. Apparently they asked him to clean his own blood.
Meanwhile, the tone of the anti-Islam comment sparked protests from several in the Gulf region, including the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Government of Kuwait, a princess from the United Arab Emirates, and several Arab activists.
Khaled Al-Suwaifan, lawyer and member of the Kuwait Bar Association Directors Committee, tweeted:
We call on international organizations, especially the United Nations, the Security Council, the Organization of islamic cooperation and all human rights organizations, to intervene immediately to stop the violations committed against our Muslim brothers in India #India
– خالد السويفان (@alsuwaifan) April 20, 2020
We call on international organizations, especially the United Nations, the Security Council, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and all human rights organizations, to intervene immediately to stop the violations committed against our Muslim brothers in India.
Activist Afreen Fatima wrote:
Valentis Hospital in Meerut (Uttar Pradesh) has put out an advertisement in local Hindi newspaper stating that it will not treat Muslim patients. Religion discrimination is not just done here, it is celebrated and advertised! Please spread the word in global community. pic.twitter.com/gThIKq7iFQ
– Afreen Fatima (@ AfreenFatima136) April 18, 2020
The Valentis Hospital in Meerut (Uttar Pradesh) released an advertisement in the local Hindi newspaper stating that it will not admit Muslim patients. Religious discrimination is not only practiced here, it is also celebrated and publicized! Please spread it to the global community.
The notice states that Muslims will not be admitted to hospitals unless they demonstrate that they have tested negative for COVID-19.
This particular hospital mentioned that for Muslim patients the COVID-19 test will be expensive. The tests can be worth 4500 Indian rupees (approximately 60 US dollars), a high sum of money for many who earn a living in manual labor, generally with minimum wages of around 176 Indian rupees (2.30 US dollars) for eight hours of job. According to a government order, testing at government facilities is free, and the government will reimburse the cost of each test (Rs 4,500) to private laboratories for testing the 500 million people covered by main public health insurance. .
Despite the start of police investigations, allegations of discrimination against Muslims began to appear regularly in the north and west of the country. Some news channels, such as Times Now, Republic TV, and India TV, have featured daily shows that demonize the large Muslim community and link it to the Tablighi movement:
Muslim Are Facing Worst Things In The Country
No Muslims Vendor Can Enter Into Hindu Majority Area
Different Wards For Hindu-Muslim in Gujarat Hospital
– Sanwar Ali (@AdvSanwar) April 21, 2020
Muslims face more terrible things in the country
Muslim vendors cannot enter the Hindu majority area
Different rooms for Hindus and Muslims in the Gujarat hospital
Meerut hospital denied treatment to Muslim with notification
Despite increasing ostracism, ten Tablighi Jamaat members donated blood plasma to help doctors treat infected patients. Many others have also stepped forward to help:
Yesterday, hundreds of Tablighi Jamaat members, who were fasting donated plasma at Sultanpuri quarantine center in Delhi. This is the very same Muslim group that is being vilified & scapegoated day in & day out by media and the ruling govt. pic.twitter.com/pYiIhi0q8i
– IndianAmericanMuslimCouncil (@IAMCouncil) April 27, 2020
Yesterday, hundreds of Tablighi Jamaat members who were fasting donated plasma at the Sultanpuri Confinement Center in New Delhi. It is the same group that the media and the government are denigrating and blaming every day.
Jamaat chief Maulana Saad Khadavli, who faced legal charges for the events, recently asked the survivors of COVID-19 to donate plasma. Furthermore, he urged all Muslims to stay home and pray during the holy month of Ramadan:
Despite Ramadan 🌙, Tablighi members are donating blood plasma for people infected with covid as hospitals are struggling for donors. These same Tablighis were accused of all kinds of nonsense by govt & the media. Prayers for all! pic.twitter.com/bjBseQJFKY
– Salman Nizami (@SalmanNizami_) April 26, 2020
Despite being in Ramadan 🌙, Tablighi members are donating blood plasma for people infected with COVID, as hospitals are desperate to find donors. These are the Tablighis themselves whom the Government and the media accused of all kinds of nonsense. Blessings to all!
Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of New Delhi, also asked that everyone who has recovered from the virus, regardless of caste or religion, donate plasma.
Construction of fake news
A video of the killing of two holy Hindu men by a crowd in Maharashtra during the period of confinement in April went viral. They highlighted tweets that claimed that the killers were Muslims, some even accused the chief minister, Uddhav Thackerey, who, after breaking ties with the BJP, formed a government coalition with the center-left groups: the Indian National Congress and the National Congress Party.
The community polarization that people have been experiencing during COVID-19 is summarized in this tweet:
Modi Sarkar has always tried to #DivideAndRule
Initial incidences of Covid19 were blamed on Jamat & given Muslim Twist
Gujarat Hospitals seperated patients into Hindu & Muslim
Lynching of Hindu Sadhu at Palghar was narrated as conspiracy against Hindus
This madness must stop!
– Koomar Shah (@KoomarShah) April 24, 2020
Modi Sarkar always tried to divide and rule.
Jaamat was accused of causing the initial incidents related to COVID-19 and the Muslims were blamed.
Gujarat hospitals separated Hindu patients from Muslims
The lynching of Hindu sadhus in Palghar was said to have been a conspiracy against Hindus
This madness must end!
Some columnists have been trying to focus on this issue. Aporvanand wrote in the Indian Express newspaper:
In the seven decades of Independent India, Muslims have systematically been forced into ghettoes. There were already two zones of sensibilities in India – Hindu and Muslim. The current crisis is being used to deepen the divide.
During India's seven decades of independence, Muslims have been systematically displaced into ghettos. There were already two sensitive areas in India: the Hindu and the Muslim. The current crisis is being used to accentuate division.
Sagarika Ghose wrote in the Times of India newspaper:
Scientists are working to find a vaccine for coronavirus, but who will cure the communal virus? It can only be cured if each of us journeys inwards to find humanity within, to treat fellow human beings as equals. After all, this is the teaching of every great religion, whether Hinduism or Islam. If even a global pandemic which knows no boundaries cannot end religious hatred, what can?
Scientists are working to find the COVID-19 vaccine, but who will cure the community virus? It can only be achieved if each one of us looks inward to find the humanity that is within, to treat our fellow man as equal. After all, it is the great teaching of all religions, be it Hinduism or Islam. If even a limitless global pandemic cannot end religious hatred, what can?
While India combats the prejudices that have come to light due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it must confront its own complicated history, because although political groups discriminate, the virus does not.
Bombay-based writer Priyanka Malhotra contributed to this report.