Some Indian politicians seem to have renamed coronavirus. They are blaming a congregation of Muslim missionaries — the members of Tabligh Jamaat, a household name in South Asia – for spreading the COVID-19 in India. Leaders of the ruling BJP and their allies in the media lead the chorus.
The issue was portrayed in such a way, as if, there was no COVID-19 problem before the Tabligh Jamaat congregation. India officially acknowledged the presence of coronavirus in the country in January this year. The propaganda surfaced despite the fact that the Tabligh Jamaat had a permission for holding the congregation. The local administration sent police as well to provide security to the congregation. The extremists from the BJP and its allies prepared the script using some notorious and defamatory terms against the Muslims — such as ‘Tablighi Virus, Corona Jihad, which are enough to incite the Hindus against the Muslims who are already overburdened with the anti-Muslim slurs. They blamed the Muslims as being the carriers of this virus from abroad to India, which in reality is turning out to be a new form of Islamophobia.
BBC says: “Islamophobic memes have also been circulating – one meme, for instance, shows China as the ‘producer’ of the virus, and Muslims as its ‘distributors’.” Indian television news channel, which has often been criticized for its divisive rhetoric, flashed headlines such as “Save the country from Corona Jihad” and “Who is the villain of Nizamuddin” (headquarter of Tabligh Jammat)?”
Amid the pandemic so many congregations, including Tablig Ijtema or congregation, were held across India. According to BBC: Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, attended a busy Hindu celebration a day into the lockdown. And 40,000 people in 20 villages were quarantined in Punjab state after a Covid-19 outbreak was linked to a Sikh preacher who had returned from a trip to Italy and Germany. The man had ignored advice to self-quarantine and visited a large gathering to celebrate a religious festival. And hundreds of thousands celebrated a 10-day harvest festival in Kerala state around the same time the Muslims congregation in Delhi was happening. Interestingly, none of the Hindu zealots steering the propaganda seemed to have no issues with the congregations their and other communities were holding.
So why the Tabligh congregation was singled out? The answer is the anti-Muslim hatred and communal mindset because it originated out of an integrated and deliberate propaganda. None will dismay if Narendra Modi government bans Tabligh congregation in India forever. The current massive chorus seems to be directed to that end.
None argues how the Tabligh followers could have left their venue of the congregation, as they were basically locked inside their markaz (or headquarter), because entire India was locked. All types of communications and transport systems were suspended. So these Muslims failed to leave the congregation venue that affected them. Abrupt lockdown and suspension of communication played the major role in worsening the situation. We dismayingly saw how the poor Indians, including elderly women and children, were forced to walk hundreds of kilometers to reach their village homes. Many of them out of tiredness and starvation, even due to non-availability of water, became sick, and some died on their way home. None considers the mismanaged and imprudent leadership of India that caused the miseries and helped spread the virus.
Who allowed these Muslims to sneak out of the venue without proper medical checkup? Why the police didn’t halt them? The reality is: Indian leadership was ineffective in dealing with the situation and allowed this unfortunate spiral to happen to create a ground so it can have an excuse to start chorus against the Indian Muslim community. It is intentional and deliberate and the Modi government is entirely responsible for it.
The major question what the Indians, perhaps, intentionally forget that on March 13 Arvind Kejrwal’s government banned gathering of over 2000 people in Delhi. If he or Indian home minister Amit Shah were serious and sincere these Muslims couldn’t have gathered at the Nizamuddin defying the ban.
Indians could have condemned the management of Tabligh Jammat without communalizing it, without tagging the whole Indian Muslim community. They even forget the reality that the Tabligh Jammat doesn’t represent, not even 10 percent Indian Muslims. Their anti-Muslim psyche is so strong and arrogant that they were not ready to miss the chance to take a hand on the entire Muslims.
Neither Modi government nor other Indian analysts have logical grounds to blame the Tabligh followers, traveling from overseas, for the alleged spread of coronavirus. The government had the time and option to deny them entry into India or send them for a medical test or to isolation camp. They availed neither of these options, but illogically blame not only the Tabligh Jamaat followers, but the whole of the Indian Muslim community who are a soft target and victims of Indian communalists.
If this congregation was not allowed to happen, anti-Muslim phobia or slanders wouldn’t get a chance to raise or continue. So who is the main and hidden architect of spreading coronavirus through the Muslims, is it the Muslims or the Modi government? Sensible people know the answer. Indian Muslims are the scapegoats who are being deliberately targeted.
Mohammad Zainal Abedin is a New York-based Bangladeshi journalist and researcher.
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