COVID-19 and rising Islamophobia in India
Amidst COVID-19 pandemic, Muslims in India have been assaulted, denied medical care and subjected to boycotts — all in the name of COVID-19.
Just weeks after religious pogroms conducted by Hindu ultra-nationalists left over 50 Muslims dead in Delhi in February 2020, the COVID-19 fears and religious friction was alarmingly high in India. It didn’t take long for the two forces to combine and turn into hate speech and slander against minorities in India.
Indian government departments had associated several COVID-19 cases to a Muslim missionary group ( Tableeghi Jamat) that held its annual conference in Delhi in early March after seeking appropriate permission from the relevant government authorities. Indian police and health officials in very threatening way traced anyone associated with the group and gathering.
Certain Indian TV Channels and anchors accused the group of engaging in a deliberate conspiracy to spread the virus, without citing any evidence. The Indian police were ordered to arrest everyone linked with the organisation. Over 27,000 Tablighi Jamaat members and their associates have been detained in about 15 Indian states. In Indian State of Uttar Pradesh, the police offered up to 10,000 rupees (£105) for information on anyone who had attended the gathering.
Over 2500 foreign Muslims visiting India prior pandemic crises from 35 different nationalities including British Muslims are currently detained in India on the charges of violating the COVID-19 lockdown.
They have filed a petition in Delhi high court against their unlawful detention. The Government of India has now agreed to release and deport these detainees provided they accept the offense of violating the terms of their visa and accept the charges of “wilfully” disobeying lockdown orders. It must be noted that BJP Government in September 2015 amended the India Passport entry Act and the Foreigners Act. If the detainee Muslims accept the charges under Government coercion; they might be refused future entry to India.
Videos falsely claiming to show members of the missionary group spitting on police and others quickly went viral on social media, exacerbating an already dangerous atmosphere for Muslims. The hashtag #CoronaJihad became very common on Indian social media platforms.
Muslims businesses have been boycotted across India. Muslim volunteers who were serving wider communities irrespective of religion by distributing life essentials were termed as “Covid terrorists”. The rumours spread accusing these Muslim volunteers of spitting in rations and infecting water supplies with the Covid.
Notices and banners appeared in certain parts of Indian States of Delhi, Karnataka, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh prohibiting Muslims from entering in certain Hindu majority areas. Such false news and propaganda caused more violent attacks against Muslims.
Across India some hospitals refused to admit and treat Muslim patients during the pandemic.
In Indian State of Utter Pradesh, a certain Valentis Cancer Hospital put a newspaper advert refusing to admit and treat the Muslim patients. The hospital later apologised for such controversial advert.
A government run Civil Hospital Ahmedabad in Indian state of Gujarat had set up different wards for its Hindu and Muslim patients.
Islamophobic video of the Principal of an Indian medical college located in Kanpur went viral on social media. Dr Arati Lalchandani, Principal of GSV Medical college in Uttar Pradesh in a five-minute video sting suggested that “Send them (Muslims) to jungles, throw them in dungeons. Because of these 30 crores, 100 crores are suffering.
There is a financial emergency because of them.” She can also be seen arguing that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath should issue an order that no state manpower or resources should be used on the treatment of Jamaat members. “Those should be in jail, you are bringing them here for treatment, feeding them, getting others infected, wasting manpower and kits”. She was even seen comparing the Tableeghi Jamat members with terrorists.
A 33-year-old Muslim pregnant women in Indian state of Rajasthan was refused hospital admission in Janana Hospital in Bharatpur when she went in labour. She gave birth to her child in an ambulance but the newborn could not survive due to non-availability of essential medical support.
In a similar case in Indian State of Jharkhand; a pregnant Muslim women was humiliated and beaten for her religion and was asked to clean her blood during labour at MGM hospital. The women had a miscarriage and a still birth.
It is clear that Indian government is pursuing an agenda of Hindu primacy, moving India away from its secular foundations and increasing concerns that Muslims will be regarded as second-class citizens.