The participants of the Tablighi Jamaat meet in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area had not anticipated the aftermath of participating in the event. The campaign against the participants and their religion, following the outbreak of COVID-19 among them, was vigorous and extensive.
The SARS-CoV-2 found a new identity in India through the religion of the infected, with Tamil Nadu being no exception. This came in handy for the right wing hatemongers with the government of Tamil Nadu playing into the hands of the troll army.
The repeated propaganda of China spreading the virus across the globe, has found its resonance in the propaganda that minorities spread the virus in the country.
‘GOVERNMENT FINDS A SCAPEGOAT’
The minister for Health and Family Welfare in the Government of Tamil Nadu, Dr C Vijaya Baskar, and Health Secretary Dr Beela Rajesh while addressing the media daily during the initial days, resorted to using terms like ‘Delhi Conference’ and ‘single source from Delhi’ repeatedly to refer to the positive patients from the Tablighi conference. The community was literally made scapegoat for the government to protect itself from criticism.
Instead of protecting the identity of the infected people, the community as a whole was projected as the reason for the hike in cases. Social media platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp were flooded with hate messages, accusing the minorities of spreading the virus with evil intentions.
The government’s attitude of identifying the community came in for sharp criticism, but the damage was already done.
‘TARGETED FOR ANTI-CAA, NRC, NPR PROTEST’
Meanwhile, the members of the community believe that they are being targeted for protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NRC). The protests, which began in December 2019, were widespread with participation cutting across religious beliefs.
Ilyas Riyaji, deputy general secretary of Tamil Nadu Jamaat Ul Ulama said, “The union government took revenge against the community for leading the anti-CAA, NRC and NPR protests. The ruling party without worrying about the COVID-19 spread was busy toppling the Madhya Pradesh government. Then, it found the Tablighi as an escape route and accused the Muslim community.”
The organisation also accused the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government of following the policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in targeting the minorities.
Also read: Tablighi Jamaat Members Say Prolonged Quarantine Feels Like ‘Detention’
“The conference took place at a time when the Tamil Nadu Assembly was in session. The Chief Minister even said in the Assembly that only people above 70 years of age need to worry about the virus and rejected the claims for adjourningthe house. No members of the Assembly were tested but the government publicly announced the Tablighi attendees to undergo test, creating fear among the public,” he further alleged.
He added that the community has lost faith in the AIADMK government and refused the rice offered for Ramzan celebrations. “The Chief Minister went on to claim that the COVID-19 is a disease of the rich people returning from abroad when the opposition parties demanded compensation for the deaths,” he told NewsClick.
TRUE SOCIAL ISOLATION
Individuals and family members of the community, in spite of whether they have attended the meet or not, were also targeted by right wing activists. The consistent hatred allegedly forced Mustafa, a man from Madurai, to commit suicide. His test results turned negative later.
Samsudeen Heera, a writer and social activist, while speaking to NewsClick said, “The community was brutally targeted for a mistake they never committed. The minorities were already facing a credibility crisis and the right wing forces made good use of the meet for negative propaganda. Many individuals, largely women were specifically targeted and accused of spreading the virus, which is not true.”
FORCED QUARANTINE AND MEDIA ‘EXPOSE’
In one such incident, a person from Tirupur who participated in the event and was kept in home quarantine, was forced to be quarantined in a hospital along with his whole family, on the demands of the right wing fringe outfit, Hindu Munnani. “The health officials arrived late to their home and since there were three teenaged girls in the family, they agreed to admit themselves in the hospital the next day morning,” Heera added.
Also read: Community-Based Mapping of Covid: Nothing Official About it
The next morning saw a massive gathering, reportedly organised by the Hindu Munnani, with full media presence. The family was apprehensive of the development and questioned the health officials for the unwarranted presence of a huge crowd and media.
“This resulted in talks between the family and the revenue officials. They decided to ban the media and ensure their safety. But, a member of the family found a youth recording the happening in his mobile phone and apprehended them. Finally, they found him to be a health department official,” he said, talking about the attempted media trial by the right wing group.
NEGLECT IN HOSPITALS
The healthcare workers, praised for their contribution during the pandemic, too, were carried away by the propaganda of the right-wing forces. Heera recalled the stigma faced by a Muslim couple who visited a hospital for treatment.
“They visited a gynecologist for a check up. They were made to wait for so long and the doctor treated them with disdain and accused them of being the reason for the viral spread. She even questioned their credibility. After the affected couple flagged the issue via social media, the hospital and the doctor tendered an apology,” he added.
The fear in the public was successfully created through the rigorous campaign of the various right-wing outfits. The healthcare workers, unfortunately fell prey for this campaign, adding to the agony of the members of the minority community, claim minority rights activists.
“In another incident, an elderly man was made to wait for hours for an orthopaedic treatment in Tirupur. Another issue to consider is the fear psychosis in the society by the right wing group, unfortunately the health care frontliners are also victims of the propaganda,” Heera said.
The damage as a result of the propaganda is too severe to be rectified soon. The community which already faces discrimination on various aspects, now face further alienation in the name of COVID-19.
Also read: Agra: Despite Twice Testing Negative for COVID-19, Tablighi Jamaat Members Continue to Remain in Quarantine