After the media glare on Markaz at Nizamuddin, the global headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat, where thousands of delegates, several of whom later turned out to be Covid-19 positive, had gathered for a conference in the run up to lockdown, the coronavirus outbreak in the country has been increasingly communalized. The Nizamuddin event has been projected on all Muslims. So much so that now even Muslim vendors are being boycotted by the non-Muslims. To ensure they too are not boycotted, Hindu vendors put up flags to demonstrate their religious identity. This is such a sad state of affairs. But it is of a piece with the existing state of affairs in the country where even a pandemic is supposed to have a religion.
That said, other than a section of politicians, the media has played a dubious role in promoting this mindset. One can’t help experiencing a helpless sense of outrage at the way the facts are thrown to winds when it comes to analyzing the issues facing the country and the way an entire community is demonized. Most of the leading anchors and the talking heads, dabble profusely in communal innuendo against Muslims on coronavirus to hammer their arguments home.
One leading channel even did a show on Madrasa hotspots where poor children are provided religious education and lodging and boarding by mounting a sting operation on a few such institutions. The show was widely criticized for deliberately and selectively targeting Muslims but this had little impact on the channel which earlier in a revealing illustration had broke up the number of COVID-19 cases in the country along communal lines.
True, Tablighi Jamaat does share some blame for continuing with the conference in defiance of the social distancing advice. The organization, however, has offered an explanation for its conduct that too merits consideration. But while the issue should have ended with the dispersal of the conference, it has not. On the contrary, the religious outfit’s conduct has been extrapolated to entire community. And shockingly enough, this demonization has been mainstreamed. Even the opposition parties have been largely subdued in their criticism. Thankfully, a group of 109 academics, students, lawyers, activists and others from across various walks of life have released a statement condemning the communalisation of the COVID-19 spread in India and the automatic criminalisation of Muslims in media and by the government. The statement slammed “a brand of raw communalism unleashed on Tablighi attendees in particular and Muslims in general”. But such saner voices have hardly been sufficient enough to dent or alter the drift of the communal discourse in the country. How one wishes that the government intervenes and steers the conversation back to combating the disease. But in the given circumstances, it is too much to expect from the government.
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