“Musalmaan ko apne nazdik mat aane dijiye (Do not allow a Muslim to come close to you).” This was a startling message I received on my phone from my grocery shopkeeper who had just a few hours ago sent groceries to our house, which was carried on his back by none other than a Kashmiri Muslim porter. (In Shimla, since a large number of roads are non-motorised and because of the ongoing curfew, the freight is generally carried on the back and Kashmiri porters have been doing it since last century). I am sure that the shopkeeper had sent such messages to hundreds of customers in the town.
For a moment I was completely surprised because I have known this town since my childhood and I have also served it for five years as the deputy mayor of Shimla. I could not have imagined such a message being sent to anyone in the town and to me, particularly, never! And, why I am so jittery with this message is because the Kashmiri migrants, who generally are porters in the city, have an interesting fiduciary relationship with some of the arhityas (commission agents)/ business people in Shimla. Most of these arhityas are staunch supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but the Kashmiri migrants would trust them to keep their money with them. And that money would then be taken by the Kashmiri porters while visiting their homes back in Kashmir. Never have I, or the organisations for which we worked, ever, got a complaint of a fraud. There was this mutual trust which has continued to exist for a long time. But with this message, it seemed like everything is shattered.
This shows the depth of the malaise and the campaign which the sangh forces [RSS] in Shimla town have been able to build over a period of time. But this also exhibits an important message--that to cover up the utter failure of the BJP government in mitigating the Covid-19 crisis; they (RSS and its cohorts) have unleashed the most brazen, naked, lethal and shameless campaign to divert people’s attention from the main issue.
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Social media is rife with unabated campaigns portraying Muslims as demons; as if the spread of Covid-19 is just because of them. But simmering below is also strong anguish, fear and agony among the medical fraternity in the country. The sheer failure of the Modi government in providing the bare minimum PPE to those at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19 cannot be veneered by either banging plates or lighting candles. The sangh parivar knows it well, and, hence has unleashed one of the most vicious campaigns. Juxtapose that with the thousands of messages posted on the social media by the medical fraternity, where they are talking about their helplessness and ineptness to handle the situation owing to the lack of basic facilities.
One of such instances was when a resident doctors’ association went to the extent of even asking people to donate money to them so that they can purchase the basic equipment and medical gears required in the hospitals. The RDA of VMMC & Safdarjung hospitals in Delhi have released a “to whom it may concern” letter, asking the general public to provide protective equipment for the Safdarjung hospital staff. The letter states, “We have approx 500 faculty members, 1700 resident doctors and 2000 nursing staff. Also, the entire 807 bedded super speciality block (SSB) has recently been converted into Covid-19 block”. They have asked for 50,000 PPE kits (Hazmat suits), 50,000 N95 masks, 300,000 triple layer masks and 10,000 hand sanitiser bottles (500 ml). I wondered when the PM, in his address on April 3, spoke of the ‘spirit’ to combat Covid-19, had he mentioned the real ‘spirit’ to be made available in the hospitals for hand sanitisers, it would have made more sense!
The RDA letter is an eye opener. There are hundreds of such hospitals which are screaming for the basic equipment and the fear among the medical fraternity is quite genuine. Lack of safety can cost their lives. Some of the doctors in Hindu Rao Hospital Delhi, even expressed their willingness to resign, than to become victims of the inept system.
It is high time that the government purchases the basic gears for the hospital staff and also hammers down all sorts of communal and vicious propaganda being spread by some of their own close associates. Else, the country will be at a major loss. The PM has to inspire confidence among the people that the government stands besides them. That confidence can not just come from the television addresses and mere rhetoric. Something concrete on the ground must happen. Unfortunately, that is what is missing. And, it has led to even a senior advocate of the Supreme Court stating that, “we citizens are not clowns and the PM is not a ring master to order banging of plates and lighting of the candles.
And, by the way, I have given my shopkeeper the elbow.
The writer is former deputy mayor of shimla. The views are personal.
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