I would have said a plague o’ both your houses, except for the fact that it’s too Shakespearean – and that mentioning a contagious disease even as a metaphor is quite wrong in these pandemic times. But the latest round of whataboutery over a Tablighi Jamaat event in which some 3,400 people had gathered on March 10-13 in Delhi’s Nizamuddin comes at a time when pitching one act of idiocy against another as some puerile form of defence/ counterattack is as pointless as arguing the illegality of the migration of people from one state – or, for that matter, from one country – to another during lockdown.
That the Tablighi Jamaat event – even as it took place before the nation was locked down – was dangerous, stupid and unconscionable in the face of the Covid-19 epidemic goes without question. To find some kind of anti-Muslim plot in castigating such criminal irresponsibility is to be a professional Hindutva ghoul collector.
True, the Delhi government had announced that no religious, social, political gatherings of more than 50 people would be allowed only on March 16. True, the congregation was held more than a week before GoI had announced a nationwide lockdown. True, that the day after the PM announced national lockdown on March 24 evening, Tablighi organisers had filed an official application to transfer the remaining thousand odd people who had stayed back ‘stranded’ at the venue in Nizamuddin, which the authorities ‘mulled over’.
But the fact that such a non-ticketed (and, therefore, virtually impossible to trace for testing) gathering was held showcases not just the criminal dimwittery that religions sometimes possess, but also that of civil society and people for whom religions are tailored.
It is enough for the Tablighi gathering to be castigated without having to constantly add a litany of equally irresponsible gatherings like pilgrims visiting the Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati right up to March 17, or singer Kanika Kapoor attending a party in a Lucknow hotel after declining to mention her Britain-returned travel history, or UP CM Yogi Adityanath cocking a snook at the PM’s appeal to maintain a national lockdown less than 12 hours after the PM had made it by leading a religious gathering in Ayodhya, or crowds thronging to celebrate Rang Panchami in Nashik on March 13, or devotees thronging temples on Ram Navami on Thursday in Kolkata, even as VHP and other ‘usual suspects’ had cancelled commemorative rallies across the state….
Damning the Tablighi event – not because of some anti-Muslim conspiracy, but because attendees at the event have already died and a growing number (only among those identified) being found Covid-19 positive across India and, therefore, carriers of the virus – is certainly damning all gatherings that put others at risk.
Highlighting this religious event may, indeed, add fuel to the Islamophobic fire. But that is a separate battle against bigotry to fight. To stave off condemning this particular religious congregation is to pussyfoot condemnation against all such (religious or non-religious) gatherings in these virulent times.
The double standards of people wanting to have their loved ones ‘home’ irrespective of quarantine or lockdown – as is the case in Kolkata, involving a state government bureaucrat and her London-returned ultimately tested Covid-19 positive son – and, at the same time, horrified at social distancing thrown to the winds by migrant workers thronging at bus stations, or the recklessness of the Tablighi organisers, attendees, Delhi and central government (in that order) exemplify our social and societal disregard for anyone outside our familial Lakshman rekha.
The notion that our ardour for law is inversely proportional to its proximity from our ‘precious bunch’ holds true for crime and corruption. So, this latest avatar of selective outrage involving flouting self-quarantine is hardly surprising.
But what makes this beyond the scope of the traditional ‘But they also did it! Why are you picking on us?’ whataboutery is that this pandemic is truly ‘secular’ – the potential perpetrator and the potential victim are rolled into one transmitter-transmitted jitterbug.
Which is why, without folding oneself into multiple folds of politico-moral relativism, not only should the Tablighi Jamaat event be condemned, but it must be roundly denounced to condemn all gatherings and actions of every hue, kind and community pathology. A plague o’ all such houses.