One would have thought that the COVID 19 pandemic would bind people together and India would once again become as secular as it was when the Indian Constitution came into being.
Fear, especially of death of many at the same time, can be a binding factor. This is the time when the need of the hour is to work together against Corona Virus and not indulge in a blame game attacking a given community for being the root cause of spreading the virus across the country.
It is true that the massive gathering of Muslim preachers at Nizamuddin in Delhi was a grossly irresponsible act. But it is also true that Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi, had already given permission to the organizers to hold the meeting. It is also true that until March 12, Corona Virus had not been declared or even perceived as a health emergency by the government.
There are several questions that have already been asked of the government by experts as to what it was doing during those days. Why was not the permission for the congregation not withdrawn? Why were the arrivals from foreign countries not tracked by the authorities? Why was the Nizamuddin Markaz not evacuated? On March 15, Tablighi ended its International congregation at Nizamuddin. But many of the priests stayed back to leave later which increased the potential for the spread of the infection and deaths in other parts of India and beyond, wherever they travelled to. Why when the Markaz was under police monitoring, timely action not taken to safely evacuate and isolate the delegates?
Jawhar Sircar, former IAS officer and retired CEO of Prasar Bharati, and a reputed historian has listed some congregations in violation of social distancing and other guidelines during that period. Sircar states that at least five or six huge religious gatherings took place in and around March which began with singer Kanika Kapoor’s testing positive for the virus not once but at least three times. She was part of a glittering party in Lucknow attended by many VIPs and is believed to have infected hundreds.
- On March 14, Hindu Mahasabha president Swami Chakrapani hosted a large gathering to celebrate a gau mutra programme.
- On March 16, a massive pilgrim gathering was reported at Tirupati and we really do not know whether those reported infected have been tracked or not.
- On March 18, Baldev Singh, who returned from a foreign country, organized a large Hola Mohalla in Punjab in Punjab risking 40,000. Later, Baldev Singh passed away of COVID 19. Have the invitees been tested? Is it even possible to track them down to test them?
- On the day of the Curfew declared by the Prime Minister on March 22, crowds came out at 5.00 pm to celebrate in complete violation of the social distancing norms across the country.
- On March 24, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath held a large televised Ram Lila ceremony once again defying the PM’s appeal against public crowding.
- On April 5, the day the PM had asked the entire nation to switch off the lights and hold a candle or a lamp or their torches or cell phones as a symbol of unity, 200 invitees gathered at the residence of BJP MLA Dadarao Keche in Maharashtra for his birthday party!
As of today, India ranks low in the coronavirus-hit countries list based on the number of tests done per million population. India has reported less than 4,300 infected cases and 1,30,000 tests so far. This means India has carried out 93 tests per million population and reported only three cases per million population.
The blame game and the virulent campaign against the minorities by Hindu rightwing groups has led to further attacks and abuse. A poor Muslim vegetable vendor, according to news reports, was verbally abused by a customer who broke the queue of social distancing, spat generously on the street and accused the man of being a member of a faith that had “given birth” to the Corona pandemic in India. This man openly and squarely accused the Muslim community for bringing COVID 19 to India!
The poor vegetable vendor stood the insults with his head bowed in fear. The buyer insulting him was from a higher stratum of society and of better financial standing so he had the support of all who stood in the queue who added their chorus to his accusations.
Are the Muslims being targeted as scapegoats because of the mistakes committed by both the administration at Delhi and the Health Ministry at the Centre? Will lighting torches and candles and lamps on balconies as the home inside remains dark, rid the Muslims of the blame and restore secular harmony and unity to India?
When will we realise and understand that disease does not discriminate amongst people? If a royal queen has died of COVID 19, so have many poor people whose deaths remain as anonymous as their lives?