'Finding a Scapegoat': 109 Citizens Urge Govt, Media to Stop Communalising COVID-19

"Muslims are being called ‘corona bombs’, and ‘enemies of the nation’ on TV channels."

New Delhi: Academics, students, lawyers, activists and others from across various walks of life have released a statement condemning the communalisation of the COVID-19 spread in India and the automatic criminalisation of Muslims in media and by the government.

The statement recognises the sudden glare on the Markaz at Nizamuddin, the global headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat. There, a gathering was held recently, which was attended by thousands of delegates who dispersed to various parts of the country afterwards. Several of them have tested positive for the coronavirus. However, with the government’s recognition of Nizamuddin as a “hotspot” for the virus, a brand of raw communalism has been unleashed on Tablighi attendees in particular and Muslims in general.

“There is no doubt that in the light of the crisis, this event, much like all other events, should have been immediately cancelled. However, criminalising the organisers and participants of the Jamaat is nothing short of finding a scapegoat within the Muslim minority community in India,” the statement says.

Also read: Ignoring Other Cases, UP Govt Zeroes In on Tablighis For Rise in COVID Infections

The release comes in the wake of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister announcing the invocation of the National Security Act against quarantined Tablighi Jamaat attendees over other offences and mulling NSA and ‘attempt to murder’ charges against participants who fail to report for screening.

“Considering that the event was scheduled well before the COVID-19 restrictions against congregations were announced, and the fact that other religious gatherings occurred without eliciting a similar response, the move by the Delhi police to file an FIR against members of the Jamaat is unacceptable.

Targeting people who have been infected is counterproductive in that it encourages them to conceal their travel history or even symptoms due to fear of penal action,” the statement further says, noting the delayed attempt by Delhi Police to evacuate the participants.

Also read: There Was a Time ‘Fake News’ Was Used to Target ‘Hindus’ for Spreading Diseases

It also highlighted the other political and religious goings on at the time that reflect the pervasive dismissiveness regarding COVID-19 at the time.

“The singling out of the Tablighi Jamaat ignores other large gatherings that took place around the same time and even later, often attended by politicians.

“The swearing-in ceremony of Madhya Pradesh’s new CM, Shivraj Singh Chauhan by several BJP leaders took place as late as March 23rd. Karnataka’s chief minister was reported to have attended a wedding on the 15th of March where more than a thousand people were present.

The UP Chief Minister announced on March 20th that the Chaitra Ram Navami celebrations will be held as planned.

…Besides, on the day of the janata curfew, people gathered in large numbers in many places to bang utensils in response to PM Modi’s instructions.” 

The statement notes that it is alarming to see how the mainstream media has used this incident to fan anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“Muslims are being blamed for the spread of the virus across the country. They are being called ‘corona bombs’, and ‘enemies of the nation’ on TV channels, and anchors are mouthing phrases like ‘corona jihad’. One channel even ran a banner with the Islamophobic catchphrase “Corona aaya, maulana laaya.”

Citing more examples of open hatred, the statement says that the narrative around the gathering at Nizamuddin makes it appear “like this was the single source of infection simply because the state traced and tested many of the people who attended it.”

“The moves to brand Muslims as ‘superspreaders’ of the disease are particularly abhorrent given that they are staged to coincide with a massive infrastructural and administrative failure to deal with the unspeakable tragedy of migrants losing lives on account of travelling across states on foot.”

The release ends with an appeal to citizens to refrain from scapegoating Muslims in an ostensible effort to contain the coronavirus spread.