Shakir Alam Mazumder and Prasun Goswami
I was walking to the nearby grocery shop after my Friday Namaz last year amidst the state-imposed lockdown. Three persons who had crossed my way covered their faces at the sight of me.
It still afresh in the memory of almost every Indian Muslim, the way they were demonized last year for the Tablighi Jamaat. The whole ecosystem of Hindutva and government machinery came together to portray the congregation of Tablighi Jamaat as pre-planned agenda against the nation to spread the virus. A part of the media showcased the Jamaatis as “suicide bombers”. Ministry of Home Affairs blacklisted 950 foreign nationals for attending the event in March 2020. The event took place before the announcement of Covid-19 guidelines prohibiting social and religious gatherings. The holy place of Muslim – Ajmer Sharif was referred to as “Corona Sharif” by an Assam BJP leader after some devotees were found positive for COVID-19.
The ruling government had also issued a direction to register criminal cases against the foreign participants under the IPC, the Foreigners Act, and Disaster Management Act for participating in the Nizamuddin Markaz. Though on 16 December 2020, a Delhi court acquitted 38 foreign nationals related to the said event by citing that there was not even an iota of evidence against them.
A year has passed but things have been the same. Recently, the Delhi High Court observed that there should not be any limitation on the entry of devotees in the Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque if no other religious place has a similar restriction where the center wants only 20 devotees to be allowed at a time out of police verified list of 200 persons in this mosque.
The visuals of lakhs of Hindus in Kumbh Mela openly flouting the COVID-19 norms have been seen. Over 1000 devotees who attended this meal are tested positive for COVID-19. The country is seeing the second wave of COVID-19 where daily cases even crossed the 2 lakhs mark. However, this time, the center has chosen to turn a blind eye. But the dehumanizing of Muslims haven’t stopped. When many are criticizing the TV news channels for relatively being mute this time, VHP’s joint secretary, a group of Hindu outfit -Surendra Jain has referred to the gatherings of Kumbh Mela as “Gangajal”( which is considered sacred and pure among Hindus) and Tablighi Jamaatis as drain water.
India has been a tough place for Muslims since its independence. The then Congress government had tried to push its agenda of soft-Hindutva then and the present BJP Government is openly boasting its xenophobic mindset of Islamophobia. Last year a religious gathering was used to vilify the already downtrodden Muslim community of India. The media, the BJP IT Cell, voters who have voted Modi in sheer love of his manslaughter in the year of 2002, liberals, and the soft-Hindutva preachers had come together to make every Muslim in the country vulnerable to mob lynching by the hyper-Hindutva-Nationalists. “These Muslims should be charged with a crime against humanity and be dealt with most strictly”, shouted a TV anchor, “Jihadis of the Talibani-Jamaat should be hanged till death”, opined the other. Sekhar Gupta, a liberal scribe, condemned all the Muslims of the country for this congregation. The BJP IT Cell was deployed to scream that all the Muslims of the country were Jihadis while the Health Minister of Assam reported the positive cases in connection with the Jamaat in a separate column. There were messages made viral in social media asking the public to boycott the Muslim vendors in their locality. Overall, this issue was presented as the primary cause of the spread of this virus. Muslims were presented as ‘Jaahil-Gawars’ for keeping their faith above the cause of national interest.
A common Muslim citizen of the country was afraid and panicked. They were seen with the eyes of doubt by their fellow neighbors as if they have been graphically transmitting the virus across the country. The BJP succeeded in the art it is an expert at, communalizing the minds of the common public to hate their fellow Muslim Indians. As the country was engrossed demonizing Muslims, the BJP Government continued to crack down on the Muslims who had led the anti-CAA protests. The Indian society did not find the issues of huge gathering in the Hindu event of ‘Namaste Trump’ organized by the Prime Chowkider, the Northeast Delhi violence, the economic slowdown, the migrant laborers walking down the streets to their home states, the rise in the cases of child violence during the lockdown, high dropout rate, the starving public, the jobless sex workers, etc. quite appealing and resorted to the propaganda of the Muslims transmitting the virus.
A year after the pandemic had hit, we are amidst the more lethal second wave. This new variant of pandemic fails to panic the poor and destitute of our country, they are still struggling with the permanent pandemic of hunger. The uncertainties of income, starvation, and death have been convulsing them. The private school teachers who had failed to manage to make both ends during the last lockdown have feared a re-closure of schools, the small-time traders are tensed as well.
But, amidst all these uncertainties gripping the downtrodden of this country, the state has decided to conduct elections in multiple states and parallel conduct the ‘Kumbh-Mela’ to appease its greatest voters’ base, the Hindutva loving Hindus. Lakhs have gathered together to celebrate a religious event, take a group bath, play water games, and feast together. This is the most ignorant and idiotic step taken by a bunch of Hindus. These groups of Hindus are the most insensitive creatures displaying their apathy towards the cause of public good.
The problem intensifies when the national media propagates that such a Hindu congregation is nationalist, unlike the Tablighi Jamaat. What are the reactions of a common Muslim citizen to this? The Muslims are still under the grip of fear of being mob-lynched by Hindutva gangs. Does any Cleric come forward to term these groups of Hindus as anti-national mob lynchers? Do any national media demand these Hindus to be trailed under crime against humanity? Are any such Hindu facing sedition or Disaster Act?
What should have been the role of the appellate and apex courts in this issue? Should they have taken suo-moto cognizance of the issue?
These questions hover over a secular democracy where no one is convicted of lynching Pehlu Khan in full public view, where the court denies evidence of a criminal act of demolishing a Mosque in full view of the cameras, where a non-Muslim can be lynched as a Muslim for his beard, where the cries of Tabrez Ansari while being lynched doesn’t bother the public, where Dr. Kafeel Khan has to serve a sentence of months to the FIR against him to be squashed, and where every Muslim is being forced to prove her/his patriotism since last 70 years.