Coronavirus Has Hit Indian Muslims The Worst

In addition to the vaccine, we need an antidote for Islamophobia

Photo by Reiner Knudsen on Unsplash

In a casual conversation with my mother one of these days, she said she had asked my father not to buy any vegetables from a Muslim vendor. The reason, she said, “because Muslims spit on them before selling it’’.

I was appalled to hear that. Not because of what my mum just mentioned but the fake news that she now firmly believes in. I tried to reason with her explaining that the video she saw on Whatsapp, is shot much before the whole coronavirus fiasco. It is being circulated now to fuel hatred towards the Muslim community and use them as a scapegoat for the entire pandemic. Irrespective of the timeline, I agree with her that the viral video was indeed despicable. However, it was later found that the vendor was mentally unstable. And that you cannot banish a whole community because of what you saw in one video.

There was similar fake news that was peddled a few decades ago about this local street vendor in Ahemdabad using sewage water in his preparation. No one asked then, what was his religion or worse still, asked everyone to ban street food altogether. (That would bring mayhem.) But then, ‘Why are we asking about the religion now? Why is the Muslim community being stigmatised for a pandemic that everyone is dealing with currently? And more importantly, why have we stopped asking questions?’

The malaise of the Government

What worries further is that it isn’t restricted to my mother or a few people of her generation. Over the last few weeks on several calls with my friends and cousins back in India, I have heard the same narrative before. It’s like hearing Arnab Goswami or a Sudhir Choudhary (Indian news anchors or rather a propagandist machine of the right-wing party in the country) talk, not my mother. Ever since, there has been an exponential surge in misinformation and fake news in social media, using words such as, “Talibani crime”, “Corona Jihadists,” “Human bombs,” and “Viral Villains.”

Also, when I tried to reason, she simply dismissed it. When all my attempts to convince her failed, we talked about the weather, dinner and called it peace.

But I want to talk to you Mom, and I want to talk about politics, your views — where you get your news from and what makes you believe those highly bigoted, unethical news anchors.

When my mother (now retired teacher for 25+ years, a mother of 2 young women, very liberal and otherwise apolitical person) can believe the narrative run on Indian mainstream media, imagine how intense the damage has been. What we see today are the consequences of such hate being brewed each day, every day since the last six years of the Modi Government being in power. We are collectively being brainwashed against Muslims. Wonder who the real Jihadists are.

It’s the narrative, dictated from the top most ministries, that gets repeated on all the major news channels spewing hatred and furthering their communal agenda. Coronavirus was a much-needed relief from the loud-mouthed, extremely vicious right-wing propagandists (refuse to call them journalists). They made it their mission to evacuate Shaheenbagh (Jallianwalabagh of recent times.) Unfortunately, it didn’t last that long. As soon as the news broke of Tablighi Jamaat being one of the hotspots, they started spreading filth and venom over the Muslim communities again. Although there were several such religious and non-religious congregations held in the same period, this one event was highlighted over and over on prime time.

One Google search would reveal the intensity of Islamophobia. Hate crime towards Muslims has increased nine-fold ever since BJP had come into power in 2014.

Their hatred has now started impacting the daily wage workers, roadside vendors and immigrant labourers the most. Videos began circulating of police asking vegetable vendors of their religious identity to decide whether to allow them to operate or not. This is the ‘new age India’ that we live in. Common masses (being ignorant to some extent and racist largely) started boycotting such vendors. Muslims are targeted and attacked all over the country due to such vicious and baseless allegations.

“The resulting stigmatisation of the Muslim community has been high-profile, blatant and vitriolic. The idea, that the Jamaat congregation contributed to doubling India’s virus cases paints a very misleading picture. This group was over-represented in the number of people tested.” — Dr. T Sundararaman, the global coordinator of the People’s Health Movement.

Systemic attacks on the Indian Muslim community

Indian Muslims have always had it tough ever since the Modi Government came in power. Be it the on-going lockdown in Kashmir after revoking article 370 in an unconstitutional manner or the announcement of the long-pending Babri Masjid verdict favouring the construction of Ram temple.

And how do we forget the passage of the very controversial NRC and CAA which is very cleverly devised to keep the Muslims outside the purview of citizenship or what later triggered the Delhi riots where at least 50 people were killed, and more than 35 of them were Muslims.

The severe and systematic attacks on the Muslim community needs to be condemned. We cannot take solace in the fact that a Princess Hend Al Qassimi tweeted criticising the Islamophobic posts or the response to that by Modi on maintaining communal harmony.

No, that isn’t enough.

We cannot expect anything more from the Government who is at the centre of all this. They are and always have been spreading hate to promote their devious, Islamophobic Hindutva ideology. Ever since they have come in power, they have brandished everyone opposing their views as anti-national, urban Naxalites or aligned to Congress ideology. People who have voiced dissent are tried under sedition. People who use hate to further their propaganda are protected from the law.

While the recent FIR being filed against Arnab Goswami shows that not all hope is lost, it would be interesting to see if the courts would deliver justice or succumb to the pressure from the centre.

It is not that difficult to see through this simple game of brewing hatred, spreading communalism and weakening secular democracy. How is it then that my mum, your parents, the next-door neighbour, few friends and the wider community don’t get it? Or they get it but are happy to believe in the anti-Muslim narrative as it fits their Islamophobic views? Or they feel it but are too afraid to bear the consequences of speaking against the majority?

What have we become and what the future holds if this spirals out of control. But what’s most worrisome is the state of Indian Muslims — they are continually told they are not one of us and are discriminated because of their hijaab and skull-cap. Their rights are violated every day, and their voices are suppressed. They bear the brunt of our hatred every single day. They invariably live in fear and terror in their own country.

We have failed them. But the hope hasn’t died yet. We shall preserve the fabric of democracy, no matter how delicately its threads are woven.

I apologise that we couldn’t live up to our national anthem. I apologise that we couldn’t protect you from the state-sponsored goons during the Delhi riots. I am ashamed that your students were beaten with iron rods in the presence of Delhi police. I apologise my family thinks differently than I do and I cannot convince them (after all it’s still a democracy right?) Lastly, I am ashamed I cannot do more than an apology. But I promise to voice, to show dissent and to support you for the rest of my life.

Thinker, self-experimenter, and a newbie writer. I write about personal growth, socio-political issues, and career advice.

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