An Indian police officer stops a woman in Mumbai’s Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, during lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.—AP
An Indian police officer stops a woman in Mumbai’s Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, during lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.—AP

NEW DELHI: The Delhi Minorities Commission wrote to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday to stop naming the Tableeghi Jamaat as a carrier of coronavirus in the government’s daily briefings.

It said the continued reminders created a false image about Muslims per se, which has triggered a growing number of hate crimes against the community. The fact, however, is that a vicious bout of anti-Muslim violence was already being staged in Delhi by supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for several days since February 24, independent of the coronavirus outbreak across the world.

The country’s first Covid-19 case was detected in Kerala on January 30, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was denying way into March that it posed a serious threat to the country. The Delhi violence was triggered by the BJP’s loss in the election for state assembly, and had little to do with the pandemic.

Likewise, racial assaults have been reported from different parts of the country against men and women belonging to the northeastern states abutting Myanmar and China. The logic in the bias in this instance is supposed to be linked to President Donald Trump’s callous comment about a “China virus” stalking much of the world. However, Indians from the northeast have been targeted periodically out of some other deep-seated prejudice.

Muslims as well as Christians facing growing cases of hate crimes

There was a time not many years ago when trains were packed with “different-looking” people rushing back home from far-flung Indian states after a spate of violence broke out against them.

With many privately owned TV channels busy spreading hatred of Muslims after a Tableeghi Jamaat gathering in Delhi was found to have many members carrying the coronavirus infection, non-Muslims too are becoming victims of unchecked bias.

At the receiving end of prejudice and fear stalking Indian cities are health workers, regardless of their religion or ethnicity. Doctors and nurses have received eviction notices from their landlords for being “carriers of coronavirus”.

There are reports of doctors being thrashed as well. On this front the government has appealed for sobriety. Christian groups have reported growing hate crimes against their people, most of these occurring in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh.

“While our nation and the whole world is in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Christians in many parts of India continue to struggle to freely practise their faith,” Dr Michael Williams, the national president of United Christian Forum (UCF), said in an appeal to the prime minister.

He offered “authenticated data” as saying there were at least 27 incidents of violence against Christians in eleven states of India in the 31 days of March. “Uttar Pradesh, at six, has the dubious distinction of maximum incidents, followed by five in Chhattisgarh, three each in Tamil Nadu and Odisha, two each in Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and one each in Telangana and Goa.”

The chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC), Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, said in his letter to Mr Kejriwal: “Your bulletins of coronavirus victims are showing a separate column ‘Markaz Masjid’. Such thoughtless classification is feeding into the Islamophobia agenda of the lap media and Hindutva forces and has been easily turned into a handle to attack Muslims across the country.”

Dr Khan said that as a result, “Muslims are being attacked in various areas, calls are being made for their social boycott, one boy has been lynched in the North-West Delhi village of Harewali, and others have been attacked”.

The DMC letter further said: “World Health Organisation has taken cognisance of this phenomenon, unique to India. WHO Emergency Programme Director Mike Ryan said on 6 April, 2020: ‘Countries should not profile novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in terms of religion or any other criteria.’ Two days later he asked governments not to politicise the issue and stop profiling people on religious basis. The Indian Union health ministry followed suit and said in its advisory on 8 April, 2020: ‘Des­pite all precautions, if anybody catches the infection, it is not their fault. In a situation of distress, the patient and the family need support and cooperation.’

“Further, the advisory requ­ested citizens to ‘never spread names or identity of those aff­ec­ted or under quarantine or their locality on the social media’.”

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2020