A report by Citizens Against Hate calls for ending religious profiling of Covid-19 pandemic
THERE have been 77 incidents of hate crimes against religious minorities in India since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown on March 24, 2020. This includes 22 incidents of physical assault of a person because of his religious identity, according to DOTO Database, an online platform that maps hate crimes against religious minorities in India.
Other incidents related to hate speech, vandalism of property, attacks on religious infrastructure and social boycott of people belonging to a religious minority. Of these 77 cases 71 were against Muslims.
The above information is based on incidents that took place between March 24 and June 28. All the incidents documented by DOTO Database have been sourced from reports published in media.
This comes in the backdrop of the large-scale Muslim-baiting and religious profiling that attempted to keep attention away from the government’s mismanagement of Covid-19 pandemic by attributing the outbreak to Muslims, according to a report published last month. The report (Hit Job, Using Covid-19 to Deepen Anti-Muslim Bias and Weaken Muslim Voices, May 2020) was published by Citizens Against Hate, a civil society platform that call itself ‘an open collective of individuals and groups committed to a secular, democratic and caring India’.
The report points out that immediately after 29th March, when the government claimed to trace a spike in Covid-19 cases to the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Delhi, a concerted campaign began to demonise all Indian Muslims, blaming them for the virus. This included sensational prime time TV coverage as well as targeted online misinformation, spread by social media handles using hashtags like #CoronaJihad and #BioJihad, among others.
At the same time important facts – such as India’s overall testing being among the lowest in the world, or reports of Covid-19 outbreak in other places, including religious gatherings – were being ignored. The report concludes that this suggests ‘inherent bias’ at best and a ‘hidden agenda… towards shifting the public gaze to Muslims’ at worst.
It also details how this media and online campaign soon spilled over into the real world, with social boycott, denial of public services and even incidents of direct violence against Muslims. In many places, Muslim vendors and shopkeepers were forced to shut their businesses and Muslim tenants harassed.
The report does not defend the Tablighi Jamaat, but terms the intense scrutiny faced by it ‘biased’. When overall testing and screening was still very low (India continues to have the lowest testing rate in among the top-ten countries with most Covid-19 cases) and under-reporting common across the board, the selective scrutiny of Tablighi Jamaat cases only served to paint them as villains.
On 30th March, BJP MP Gautam Gambhir and BJP national general secretary B.L. Santosh both blamed Jamaat in their tweets about the Makraz gathering in Nizamuddin, calling it “illegal.” It is no surprise that both, in their tweets, failed to mention that the congregation took place on 13-15 March, ending one week before the first lockdown began. Similar tweets and statements were by other BJP leaders like Sambit Patra and Kapil Mishra.
The statements of these BJP leaders were buttressed by a misinformation campaign across media, online portals and social media platforms. Apart from this, the report also mentions how Tablighi Jamaat members were officially criminalised under provisions of the Disaster Management Act and the Indian Penal Code. Invoking of Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) implies that the government will argue in court that Tablighi Jamaat members carried out a deliberate conspiracy to spread Covid-19.
The report also points to targeted witch-hunt of anti-CAA activists during the lockdown. According to the report, Muslims youth leaders of the anti-CAA/NRC protests have been arrested and charged in fabricated cases, including terror-related offences. Besides being in contradiction of Supreme Court guidelines on decongesting prisons during the lockdown, restrictions on movement have meant that lawyers and courts are not readily available to the accused, making them vulnerable to arbitrary actions of the police.
The report concludes that government has sought to deflect attention from their policy and management failures during the pandemic by religious profiling of Covid-19 cases. This has in turn unleashed an Islamophobic hate campaign online and in media with terrifying real world implications.
The cover of Covid-19 has also been used to silence and criminalise the anti-CAA/NRC protests which had been going on since December 2019. The report ends with s series of recommendations to stop religious profiling of Covid-19, control the proliferation of Islamophobic hate messages and misinformation, and ensure equal access to Covid-related relief and services to all.