Bebaak Collective Statement

The communalising of COVID-19 pandemic, and criminalising of an international religious conference organised by Tablighi Jamaat at its headquarters in Nizamuddin in Delhi is highly unfortunate and deserves utmost condemnation.

Bebaak Collective does not endorse or support any views held by Tablighi Jamaat but is concerned about the vilification of Muslim community by the media and the apathy of the state in dealing with the pandemic.

 The religious conference of Tablighi Jamaat took place from 13 to 15 March 2020, which was attended by a large number of delegates. The Delhi government had issued an order on 13 March banning any gathering of more than 200 people. However, the order as on this date, did not extend to religious organisations/gatherings. It was only on 16 March that the Delhi government issued a notification to close all religious institutions. The matter came to light only on 30 March when the news broke out that 6 individual who had attended the conference died of COVID-19. After this nearly 1,000 people were evacuated from its headquarters at Nizamuddin, and many were sent to hospitals while others were sent to quarantine centres.

On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared COVID-19 outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. It was also on this day that India witnessed its first case of COVID-19 but the authorities failed to recognise the looming danger and act accordingly. Tablighi Jamaat should have taken into account the spread of this pandemic and cancelled or postponed their religious conference. However, it failed to do so and jeopardised public health. The action taken by the Delhi government of filing an FIR against the authorities of Tablighi Jamaat is an attempt to cover up the lackadaisical approach of the administration, which was in deep slumber and was not prepared to tackle the outbreak of COVID-19.

A number of social and political developments took place during the same timeframe in different parts of the country most notably the coup in Madhya Pradesh planned by the BJP, the swearing in ceremony of Shivraj Singh Chauhan on 23 March that attracted a large number of people despite Prime Minister Modi’sclear indications to practise “social distancing”. On 24 March, the CM of Uttar Pradesh Ajay Singh Bisht (aka Yogi Adiyanath) violated the official social distancing guidelines to take part in a religious ceremony at Ayodhya along with hundreds of people. Yogi government has also invoked the stern National Security Act (NSA) against a few Tablighi Jamaat members for allegedly violating quarantine directives in Ghaziabad, which is biased, discriminatory and extremely unjust.In Raipur fake news of a Tabligh-e-Jamaat youth misbehaving with doctors and staff went viral on social media. The Raipur MP Sunil Soni claimed that the boy created “trouble-making” scenes the moment he entered the hospital. However, the AIIMS Raipur came out with a statement denying any such conduct by the boy.“A coronavirus positive minor from Korba district didn’t spit on doctors or any staff of the AIIMS. He is taking medicines and cooperating with the staff as per the given protocol for COVID-19 patients. He is following the rules of isolation ward as prescribed,” said the AIIMS statement.
Television news channels have used derogatory and communal catchphrases that dehumanize the Muslim community, like Tablighi Jamaat Warriors of COVID-19, suicide bombers, Corona Bomb. The leader of Tablighi Jamaat Muhammad Saad Kandhalawi was also called the“Mastermind”. These TV programmes are extremely xenophobic. Combined with the fake news, spread through social media, they have led to creating visceral hatred against Muslims.

There have been many and repeated appeals that wider testing for COVID-19 is essential to combat and prevent the infection from spreading. The extensive testing that the government has done for Tablighi Jamaat members should have been followed for other potential hotspots and also for the general public. The government of India is finally saying that it will step-up its testing in the coming days, but it is only the Tablighi Jamaat and its members, who are targeted communally as well, who have been tested extensively.

It is a matter of concern that the other potential hotspots and existing hotspots are not being given the same attention at testing facilities. Instead, the high number of confirmed cases from Tablighi Jamaat is being used to spread hatred against the community. The Muslims of Delhi have barely been able to recover from the big blow of the recent communal violence in the city. They are reeling under therelentless communal campaigning by the ruling party. The same strategy is being deployed for the COVID-19 epidemic.

It must be said that if the numbers of infected begin to grow exponentially, there may come a moment when the government will not be able to lay the entire blame on the footsteps of the minority community. Therefore, the vilification campaign is going to hurt the interests of every Indian, whatever their religion, and not just the minority.

The government owes it to the people to inform them of the steps it is taking to relieve the poor of the burden of hunger. To tell how it is supporting the migrant workers who have fled to their homes in villages because the government announced a sudden lockdown. The lockdown is considered an essential way to tackle the spread of COVID-19 and the virus that causes it. Now that we are 2 weeks into the lockdown, the government should inform how many facilities are available for treating, how many test kits and protective gear are available instead of spreading hatred and discord across the country.

Instead of spreading animosity using hashtags like #CoronaJihad, we need to strive together to fight the pandemic. It is the solemn responsibility of the media to prevent the spread of vicious communal polarisation at such critical times.

In solidarityBebaak Collective (Voice of the Fearless) [email protected]