31 March 2020
THE attempts to selectively criminalise and communalise an international religious gathering of the Tableeghi Jamaat in Delhi in mid March is extremely condemnable.
It is clear that the Central Government had the power and responsibility to screen foreign visitors into the country for the virus, and also to issue clear advisories prohibiting large gatherings. It failed to do so. Instead, well past mid March the Central Govt was still denying that Covid-19 represented a health emergency in India, and were accusing Opposition politicians raising concerns about the virus of “panic-mongering”.
India recorded its first case of #COVID19 on January 30, 2020. But throughout February, the Central Government failed to act to curb the spread of the virus or make preparations to deal with it. Instead the Central Government organised large crowds and rallies to greet US President Trump, exposing thousands to the danger of the virus. Supporters of the ruling BJP led communal mobs in Delhi in February. Warnings by Opposition leaders in early February about the approaching Covid-19 epidemic were met with mockery by the Central Government.
Not only that, BJP leaders and supporters led the way in holding large gatherings even after the danger was clear and the lockdown was announced. 700 MPs attended Parliament, the BJP performed its coup in the MP Assembly and held a large gathering to celebrate the coup on 24 March.
The Delhi Govt also has chosen to file criminal charges against the Tableeghi Jamaat for a gathering which was in no way illegal. In fact the gathering was held with the approval and cooperation of Delhi Police (which falls under the Central Home Ministry) and the concerned SDM office which falls under the Delhi Govt. If the gathering was illegal why did the Delhi Govt not issue an order stopping it at the time?
Moreover, filing criminal charges against the Jamaat, accompanied by the vicious communal and dehumanising propaganda by TV channels and on social media, will deter participants on the gatherings and potential patients from coming forward for screening and treatment.
Several Covid-19 cases and deaths have been traced to that gathering. The fact remains however that several other large religious and political gatherings were held in the same period, and since testing in India is low, it is difficult to know how many cases could be linked to those gatherings.
The other religious gatherings include those at the Shirdi Saibaba temple, gatherings by a Sikh preacher, and quite recently, pilgrims to Vaishno Devi who are stranded there during the lockdown (and who may well have carried the virus to remote hill communities). These gatherings and those of the Tableeghi Jamaat should not be criminalised, let alone communalised. The responsibility rests with the Central Govt which gave mixed messages and failed to issue clear guidelines, leaving decisions about gatherings to the wisdom of organisations and individuals.
The Central Govt is trying to get the Court to gag all media and social media coverage of the Covid-19 crisis that is not “approved by the Govt”. It is clear that the lockdown has created the very crowds it was meant to deter, and has also resulted in deaths from hunger, road accidents, police brutality, and farmers’ suicides as well as suffering for migrant workers and the poor workers and peasants. Meanwhile there is no attempt to curb the openly communal and racist Islamophobic propaganda on media and social media, that is trying to link Covid-19 to the Muslim community or to Chinese people. People from North East India have already been facing racist discrimination, hate crimes and violence in the name of Covid-19, and now Muslims too are vulnerable to the same.
We call on all in India to firmly rebuff the conspiracy to communalise the Covid-19 pandemic, and do their utmost to help all people avoid crowds and maintain precautions so as to prevent the spread of the virus.