Muslims in India are simultaneously fighting two battles; one against Coronavirus which has infected more than 23,452 Indians and 23,47,875 patients worldwide and second, against the physical, verbal and psychological warfare they are going through every single day. This warfare did not start in March 2020, with the arrival of COVID-19. It started a very long time ago with the partition, when India’s tryst with destiny was made after years of non- violent struggle was purged with millions of deaths during the partition.
“All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action…” Nehru said. His audience found assurance in his words, in his charm and in his promise of unity. Then for many years, we had slogans promising brotherhood, love and communal harmony. “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isaai, aapas mein hain bhai bhai” one said. Then many others joined in. India was not a Hindu-nation anymore. It was a nation of many religions-a secular one. Musalmaan adopted Hindustan as their home and vice versa. The sense of being the other, the Muslim, not-Hindu subsided, but it never left.
However, this sense, this frightening feeling took full control of the Muslim mind, after the 2014 general elections. Since then, the ostracisation of Muslims in Indian society has only been increasing. I am not saying that before 2014, Muslims were living a normal life. I just had never experienced the complications so intimately. I hadn’t seen my friends and family bothered and worried about their very identity. I had simply not seen so much hate among the masses. Any time, anywhere, any extremist Taliban group plans an attack, Muslims all over the world bear the brunt of it. Muslims are constantly trying to make up for something they did not even do. No matter how much they contribute socially and economically to the society, they are still scrutinized because of their religion, their name and now, their outfit as well.
The year 2020 started rocky for Muslims across the country. The protests against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, were raging everywhere. Muslims had had enough and were finally speaking up against many years of repression and xenophobia. Instead of using bullets and gaalis, Muslims were using poetry and the tricolour. When the cases of COVID-19 started coming up, the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and the Isaai were all united once again. Social media was filled with posts commending the Coronavirus for uniting the country all over again. Muslims were finally fighting with the majority against the virus. They were on one team. They were united. That did not last for long.
Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary group in Delhi, held its annual conference in the month of March. This conference was attended by many Muslims from all over the world. On March 13, the Indian Health Ministry had announced that India was not yet facing a health emergency and when the nation-wide lockdown was announced, the conference was long over. Some attendees had left for their countries/states but some stayed back and couldn’t go after the lockdown was announced. These attendees had come from different countries, unknowingly carried the virus with them and infected many others. When six attendees of the congregation died in Telangana, that’s when the authorities took notice of the Jamaat. Now, I am not here to support the Jamaatis. They did behave recklessly. Coronavirus in India spread a lot more because of the Jamaatis. However, a population of around 201 million Muslims cannot and should not be blamed for it. Just like every person in the world right now, they too are frightened and anxious about their future and to top all of that, they have to survive this hate-mongering once again.
I would like to bring to your notice what all has happened since the Tablighi Jamaat fiasco. According to the data shared with TIME by Equality Labs, since March 28, tweets with the #CoronaJihad have appeared 300,000 times and that’s just on Twitter. The hashtag is trending on other social media applications as well. There are other hashtags too like #CoronaTerrorism and #CoronaBombsTablighi. There are videos coming up of men in Muslim attire licking utensils, coughing and sneezing to spread Coronavirus. Most of these videos were filmed long ago, not in India and Alt News, a fact checking organisation has debunked most of these. The Hindu, one of the leading newspapers, published a cartoon showing Coronavirus with a gun in the hand, terrorizing the world. This virus was in a Muslim attire. The Hindu isn’t the only one. Media houses are one of the leading causes behind the increasing hate amongst the Indian population. The #CoronaJihad was all over the news and one could smell the Islamophobia from their television screens. One day my mother said to me that she gets very emotional after watching the news, she feels like she is accused of something, as if she has committed a crime. It was disheartening to hear my mother say something like that. I could only nod and wonder how many others were feeling the same way. To these sold media houses, I just want to ask if they even realize what they are doing. They are committing a crime against humanity, against their own conscience. Their hate mongering has led to lynchings and deaths of many across the country.
Ali, a 22 year old Muslim, was returning home from a religious gathering. He was attacked, beaten till he bled from his ears and nose and then taken to a temple where he was told to renounce Islam and convert to Hinduism. His attackers were quite sure that he was on a mission to spread Coronavirus. Senior BJP leaders are giving hate speeches against the jamatis and Muslims, with no consequence. Muslims are being assaulted by local BJP members, with no consequence. This is not all, there’s more: The Indian Express reported that a Muslim family in Gurgaon was allegedly attacked for taking videos of a procession that took to the streets to carry out the Prime Minister’s instructions. A mosque in Gurgaon was shot at and the men arrested for it told the police they had fired to “check if anyone infected with the Coronavirus was hiding inside.” In Delhi, Muslims are being barred from entering neighborhoods. Nobody is buying vegetables or groceries from Muslim vendors. Some vendors are carrying their Aadhar Cards for identification and shopkeepers are refusing to cater to Muslim residents. In another news, Gujarat’s Ahmedabad Civil Hospital is segregating patients on the basis of religion and shifting them to separate wards.
Someone said this right; when a Muslim individual does something phenomenal, it is considered an individual act but when a Muslim individual or a group (in this case) does something wrong, the whole Muslim community is considered responsible for it. The jamaat isn’t solely responsible for this recklessness. The Central Government’s delayed response to the pandemic also contributed equally to this. Why were the foreigners coming for the congregation from COVID-19 hotspot countries like Malaysia and Indonesia not screened at the airport? My friend took a flight to Kerala from Delhi on 21st March and reported that there was no checking at the Delhi airport whereas in Kerala, everybody was being screened. When would our government start taking responsibility for their lack of action? When would the people remove the blindfold from their eyes and start holding the BJP-led government responsible for their carelessness?
How many candles do Muslims have to light at their balconies to be accepted? Should they stand longer, clap more, whistle and dance on the streets? As I conclude this, with a heavy heart, I ask, what is it going to take for a Muslim to become Indian?
Ramsha Khan is a student pursuing English Honors from Jamia Millia Islamia.