A year ago, the corporate-controlled mainstream press and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched a synchronised Islamophobic campaign blaming the Tablighi Jamaat sect, and the Muslim community, for the spread of the COVID-19 virus. That story is now pushed to oblivion when the Mahakumbh—one of the largest religious congregations of the Hindu community—is happening at Haridwar.
The ritual of Shahi Snan, a dip in the river Ganges by devotees, will take place on April 12, amid a rising tide of COVID-19 cases in India and when hundreds of COVID-19 cases are detected in Haridwar. But unlike the Tablighi Jamaat episode, no one is going hammer and tongs on the month-long Mahakumbh gathering.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat, diagnosed with COVID-19 now, had invited pilgrims to the Mahakumbh assuring them that none of them would be “unnecessarily harassed in the name of COVID-19 restrictions”. Though the Uttarakhand government has claimed that it’s following strict COVID-19 guidelines during the Mahakumbh, the whole idea of organising the event amid the pandemic isn’t questioned.
For something not even remotely connected with such blatant and wilful violation of COVID-19 guidelines, 146 out of a total 3,500 attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat event in Nizamuddin Markaz are still, after a year, struggling to return to their homes. Among these, 26 still await trial.
A nationwide vitriolic campaign was launched against the Tablighi Jamaat sect and its delegates, who were left stranded due to the lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March 2020. The Tablighi Jamaat members were hounded, vilified using fake images and propaganda, and the media ran thousands of stories to titillate the Islamophobic, upper-caste Hindu news consumers.
A study shows that 11,074 stories related to the Tablighi Jamaat, linking it to the spread of COVID-19 in India, were published between March 20th until April 27th 2020.
BJP’s member of the Parliament Shobha Karandlaje alleged Tablighi Jamaat members were running a ‘Corona jihad’ and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) demanded a ban on the sect and its activities by calling it a “nursery and nourisher of Islamic radicalism and terror”.
BJP leader and Union minister, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, called the Tablighi Jamaat congregation a “crime”. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs cancelled visas of foreign delegates of the Tablighi Jamaat and several criminal cases were filed against them. The Modi regime and the corporate-controlled mainstream press conveniently hyped the Tablighi Jamaat incident to divert attention from millions of poor workers walking hundreds of miles to their villages and the total failure of the public healthcare system in dealing with the pandemic.
Even the so-called “secular” Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi blamed the Tablighi Jamaat for being a single source of the COVID-19 pandemic in the city. But the same AAP didn’t mind a grand celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali amid the pandemic. The change of religious identity of a gathering also changes the possibility of it becoming a COVID-19 spreader.
Many so-called “secular” intellectuals lambasted the Tablighi Jamaat members and the Muslims who have been showing sympathy towards the sect. They didn’t speak up when a public interest litigation was filed against the pharmaceuticals company Jubilant Generics, owned by Hindustan Times owner Shobhana Bhartia’s husband Shyam Bhartia, which became the source of the first cluster outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Karnataka, accounting for 82% cases in Mysuru district.
Though Islamophobic vitriol isn’t fringe but a mainstream activity in India under Modi, the virulence with which the Tablighi Jamaat members were hounded by the BJP-media-state nexus rang a vexing alarm for the Indian Muslims. Though opprobrium has been heaped regularly over its choice of food, language, worship and even marriage or family planning practices, the Muslims never faced such diabolical dehumanisation before.
In West Bengal’s Telanipara, a communal pogrom was organised targeting Muslims by the BJP’s goons, accusing them of spreading COVID-19. Muslims faced catcalls and were accused of being “Corona jihadis” elsewhere too. Many Muslim street vendors were chased away by Hindutva thugs and the community was treated with suspicion everywhere.
Lately, when the Bombay High Court’s Aurangabad bench quashed cases against Tablighi Jamaat members, when the Delhi High Court ordered the Delhi Police to return the passports of 35 Tablighi Jamaat members, forget the BJP and its servile media houses, even the so-called “secular” politicians and intellectuals who fired a salvo against the Tablighi Jamaat, didn’t tender an apology. The police, the government and the majoritarian fascists remain unapologetic as well.
Who will return the days that the Tablighi Jamaat members and their Muslim contacts in India spent in captivity, often in inhuman conditions? Who will restore the respect and dignity of the Tablighi Jamaat members? Who will deliver justice to the Muslim community?
Forget taking any action, even after retracting its vitriol against the Muslims following international condemnations, the Modi regime defended the “Corona jihad” story. Television anchors who had spewed venom against Muslims by inventing a conspiracy theory, remain them to courts for their blatant Islamophobic ranting.
In case there was a grand Islamic congregation announced amid this second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, in place of the Mahakumbh, then the usual ranting and vilification of the Muslim community would’ve continued in a similar way. But now, as the Mahakumbh helps the BJP in retaining its hegemony, therefore, it’s not under the scanner for gross COVID-19 violations.
A year later, amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tablighi Jamaat still wears the crown of thorns while thousands gather at Haridwar for the Mahakumbh. It’s not necessary to tender an apology to the Tablighi Jamaat members and the Muslim community for the gross injustices done to them. It’s necessary, however, to drive the recalcitrant, Islamophobic minds towards sanity and logic.
It’s important that the common people’s sense of incredulity regarding the Muslim community, developed by the Islamophobic agitprop by the Hindutva fascists, is shattered through facts and logic. It’s imperative to wean away from the Hindutva camp the large section of Dalits, tribal people and backward class Hindus used as pawns against the Muslims. It’s only then this hypocrisy of selective outrage on Tablighi Jamaat and silence on Haridwar Mahakumbh can be effectively addressed and abolished.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker