As the COVID-19 crisis strikes India, it has paved the way for an old religious divide to resurface. Like many others, India is struggling to keep up with testing and containing the virus. Panic is starting to rise and the country once again found its scapegoat: Muslims. Specifically, the country has now started to blame the Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary movement.
Last month, the Tablighi Jamaa met for one of its usual meetings in Delhi, with national and international participants. The situation escalated when the government shut the doors to the five-story building the meeting took place in due to a COVID-19 spike in India. About 2500 worshippers soon became trapped inside. India soon blamed the Tablighi Jamaat for the outbreak and locked downstate and national borders within a four hour notice period. Trains were stopped, highways were closed, and state borders were shut down. Visitors are now trapped in a city without accommodations to go home. Organizers of the event arranged for vehicles to take the participants home, but the government is not giving them permission to do so.
The government blames Muslims for the outbreak of the pandemic throughout the country yet it is responsible for letting foreigners into the country for this event. The Indian government has officially labeled the Tablighi Jamaat and its attendees as a scapegoat for spreading the virus. The government is testing Muslim neighborhoods selectively and even went so far as to call Muslims spreading the virus “corona jihad,” implying that they are purposely spreading the disease with ill intentions.
Hindu events took place at the same time yet the government only blames the Muslims. Temples were kept open for weeks after the Tablighi Jamaat took place. Hindu festivals such as Kadiri Narasimha Swamy Brahmotsavam and Ayodhya Ram Navami Mela took place amid the growing concern for the pandemic yet no government official has addressed that. The panic that was caused resulted in a Mosque being burned down and mob lynching taking place in outer Delhi. Now, instead of testing as many people as possible, the government is specifically testing Muslim neighborhoods. Everyone who used the Nizamuddin railway station is now being falsely targeted only because the railway station is located in a Muslim neighborhood.
Recently, a health department official, Pallavi Jain contracted COVID-19. She refused to be admitted into a hospital and as a result spread the virus to 36 others and appointed multiple doctors to treat her at home. These doctors neglected their duty to the public on the orders of a government official.
Many people are responsible for the coronavirus spike in India but the government is pointing fingers toward the Muslim community alone. This has brainwashed the public to believe that this community is responsible for the virus. “Star of Mysore,” a newspaper, is calling for a Muslim genocide by referring to the Muslim community as “bad apple” that the country “needs to get rid of.” This is precisely the problem. Those at the top of the hierarchy do not want to take responsibility and they do not want to go against the “Hindutva” agenda of the government. This makes Muslims the perfect scapegoat.
India has a long history of religious discrimination. From its independence to the recent CAA and NRC protests, religious differences have always kindled the flame that is burning throughout the country. Under Chief Minister Modi, in 2002, over a couple of thousand people died from pogroms against the Muslims. Now under Prime Minister Modi’s rule, in 2019, India passed a citizenship amendment that will provide citizenship to all religions from neighboring countries but Muslims. This caused protests where neighborhoods were burned to the ground. Once again, in 2020, PM Modi has placed the blame for spreading COVID-19 on Muslims. The BJP’s anti-Muslim approach has now divided the country further.
Muslims have been used as the scapegoat for many problems in India for hundreds of years. The government uses this divide to divert attention from the real problems of the country. The poverty, economic downfall, and now the lack of medical supplies and kits to fight the virus. The Indian government has tested less than 1% of the country’s population. The country does not have sufficient resources to test its people, care for them, or help them recover. Overnight lockdowns have trapped thousands of people who are frantically trying to go home. Many have tried walking hundreds of kilometers to try to get closer to home only to find out that state borders are closed. People are not being provided with any accommodations to go home.
Those living in poverty have not seen food for days at a time. Many who had their homes burned down in the CAA and NRC protests have nowhere to go and no money to buy food. Families are separated, unable to get home. The government is taking frantic steps to contain the virus but is only putting its people at more risk. Amid all this confusion the government points fingers at the Tablighi Muslims.
Fake news has spread throughout the country. False accusations are being made. Some news channels have even apologized for spreading fake news against Muslims spreading the virus. Most of the cases said to be positive in the Tablighi Muslims are being proven false yet the government is not backing down. The United Nations itself issued a statement against the discrimination that is taking place.
This country is not taking sufficient and effective steps towards solving this problem. All they are doing is redirecting this chaos to blame a certain group. This can divert panic, but for how long? What is this densely populated country going to do when people start dying? With 1 in 50 cases turning out to be positive, blaming each other, is not going to help anyone right now. Thousands of people are dying as a result of the misinformation the Hindu Nationalist Indian government is spreading. We as people need to support one another and help each other the best we can. Italy, Spain, and now the US prove how this virus can escalate in a matter of weeks.
India is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. Human contact physically cannot be avoided in many parts of the country. Tens of thousands of people do not need to die just so the government can push its Hindu agenda forward. The government needs to focus on what is important instead of quarreling on an issue that can have no real outcome.