Lucknow: A 70-year-old woman, suffering from severe abdominal pain because of a kidney problem, was rushed to Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences (RMLIMS) in Lucknow on October 8. But to her surprise, instead of giving her the medical attention she needed, the institute was more concerned about her Tablighi Jamaat connection.
RMLIMS is a super-specialty autonomous medical teaching institute in Lucknow established by the Uttar Pradesh state government.
Amana Begum of Faridi Nagar complained to her family about the pain around 10:30 pm, after which her son Shakir Ali took her to the prestigious RMLIMS. Before Begum was treated, her son was sent to the clerical division to complete the formalities and admit her to the hospital.
A clerical staffer started questioning him about the patient’s symptoms as part of COVID-19 screening, which is a mandatory protocol to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Ali said that while his mother was writhing in pain, a clerk asked him whether she or anyone else from her family had attended a Tablighi Jamaat congregation.
Ali showed The Wire a COVID-19 screening form from the institute. Along with eight other questions, it also asks whether the patient or anyone in their family has attended events organised by the Tablighi Jamaat.
Begum, Ali said, has a stone in her kidney. “On that night, we had visited the state-run hospital for first aid. I had planned to get her a laparoscopic surgery. But I dropped the idea after observing their attitude towards us. Now that my mother has recovered a bit from the pain, I will take her to a private hospital for the operation.”
Earlier, the official government health bulletin in UP had a separate column detailing how many COVID-19 patients had attended a Tablighi Jamaat event. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had specifically told all pandemic-affected countries in April that they should not profile coronavirus patients by religion or any other criteria. The WHO had also asserted that the disease is not anybody’s fault, and every patient is in fact a victim.
Since then, the Bombay high court has also sternly criticised the manner in which the Tablighi Jamaat was stigmatised.
When contacted, RMLIMS spokesperson Dr Srikesh Singh told this reporter, “We are not authorised to design a COVID-19 screening form” and “We are following the protocols set by the state and Central governments”.
On the question about the Tablighi Jamaat column in the COVID-19 screening form, he replied everything is decided by the governments, and the RMLIMS administration has nothing to do with it.
The principal opposition party in the state, Samajwadi Party, slammed the government for ignoring suggestions issued by the WHO. Former state minister and senior party leader Abhishek Mishra told The Wire that the government must remove this discriminatory column from COVID-19 screening forms with immediate effect and take stringent action against those who drafted such a form.
Legal expert and human right activist Shubhangi Singh told The Wire that to see such questions in government documents shows the far-reaching and demonising effect of fake news or hyper-sensationalised and biased reportage. She also underscored the fact that humanitarian efforts have not been able to reach several vulnerable Muslim localities because of these reasons.
“It’s disappointing to see the state is refusing to take action even though the people and the judiciary have been vocal about the blatant targeting of the Muslim community,” Singh added.