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India’s Medical Quarantine Grapples With Social Rifts

Humra Quraishi |
The state is violating basic rules of equality and fair treatment at quarantine centres.
Quarantine Grapples With Social Rifts

Representational Image.

An appalling video of a quarantine centre in Agra has recently come to light. Each frame of the video appears to have been plucked right out of some dark age. Inmates have been herded into the centre like cattle. While they have been locked within a gated compound, a caretaker can be seen throwing packets of biscuits and bottles of water at them. The prisoners push their hands through the grill of the gate, trying to grab some supplies.

The horrifying images show exactly how the state is treating people during this pandemic. These conditions are the reason why people are wondering whether the Novel Coronavirus is a killer or the sheer hunger and thirst—not to mention the ill treatment meted out to hundreds stuffed in “quarantine” camps—is going to be the cause of their demise.

Even the quarantine centres in New Delhi have been the subject of controversy for the last two weeks, since two inmates have died in them. The family of one of the deceased has said that it is not the virus but lack of food, medicine and utter callousness of the administrators that is responsible for the terrible conditions. The victim was lodged in the quarantine centre at Sultanpuri, and was a diabetic.

To compound the situation, the food provided to them—bananas and slices of bread—are absolute poison for diabetics. Even when well-wishers and family members tried to send food and dry fruits and bottled water to the inmates, the police stationed at the gates prevented it.

The Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal misses no opportunity to tell the masses about his own blood sugar levels, yet his government could not provide basic care to people suffering from the same ailment as he. And we hear no apology tendered to the families of the victims.

In several quarantine camps/centres inmates linked to the Tablighi incident are being to made to stay beyond the required 14 days of isolation. Delhi Minorities Commission’s chairman Zafarul Islam Khan and member Kartar Singh Kochhar have written to Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain saying that the people brought to quarantine camps from Tablighi Markaz in Nizamuddin will be completing 28 days on Monday, 27 April. This is twice the mandatory period for Covid-19 quarantine as per WHO guidelines. “This means that these people are being unnecessarily kept in detention when 14 days is the longest period for the appearance of Coronavirus symptoms in an infected person. People in other quarantine centres have been allowed to go home after 14 days if they tested negative,” their letter says.

Already the Tablighi Jamaat had been played up in Delhi beyond all proportion, though it is only a religious group, whose members were stranded in its Nizamuddin headquarters because of the sudden lockdown. There was nothing more to the entire episode, which was blown out of proportion for political reasons alone.

The other aspect is that even in this Ramzan, a month of fasting, the Muslim inmates of the Delhi-based quarantine camps who are observing the fast are not being provided pre-dawn breakfasts. This is true of the centres in Sultanpuri, Wazirabad, Narela and Dwarka. Again, the Delhi Minorities Commission, when it learned of the situation in the quarantine camp located at the Police Training School at Wazirabad, has raised the issue. This camp is supervised by the District Magistrate (North) who is seemingly oblivious of the conditions of the inmates. Fans, buckets and mugs have not been provided and inmates are not allowed to buy anything from outside.

Saturday was the first day of the fasting month of Ramzan but the inmates at Wazirabad fasted on empty stomachs because pre-dawn food was not supplied. Then for breaking their fast at sunset, they were given just two bananas and three dates. Finally, the Jamiat Ulama stepped in and provided them predawn food, “which is a matter of shame for the administrators of the camp,” their letter said.

It is no wonder that the Muslim community in the country is upset and apprehensive at the way the community is being demonised. First, all sorts of propaganda was unleashed against them and now even when they are observing this month-long fast they are not getting adequate or timely food. This is nothing short of state tyranny. Never before in recent history the Indian Muslims have faced abuse of this magnitude from political rulers and the state machinery.

My Kashmiri friends used to tell me that one has to be a Kashmiri living in the Valley to grasp the sheer trauma of their identity. Well, today, this applies to all of those who do not comprehend the sheer trauma of being a Muslim in today’s India. I tell them to read the facts about the disparities and discriminations a Muslim faces today on any given front—housing, education, jobs, healthcare, government schemes. Perhaps then they would realise the disadvantages and challenges a Muslim faces. I also ask them to don a shervani and skull cap or a burqa or hijab for a day to see what the Muslims experience.

My Kashmiri friends tell me that an official address in the Valley, a Muslim name and a Kashmiri-looking face are enough for the police to get “suspicious”, even more so if you are a bearded man wearing a skull cap. The situation has turned so alarming in recent months that several Muslims were stopped by the roadside by local goons and yelled at: “Out…get lost! Go to Pakistan!” All this is happening under the watchful gaze of the police. Sooner or later, one will have to take note of what is really going on in the name of fighting a pandemic in India.

The author is a freelance journalist and commentator. The views are personal.

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