IN a radical move that bears all the hallmarks of bigotry, India has brought charges of culpable homicide against a senior cleric for holding a gathering last month that authorities say led to a big jump in coronavirus infections in that country.
Head of the Delhi-based Tableeghi Jamaat Markaz, Maulana Muhammad Saad Khandalvi was booked for manslaughter by police under a provision of the Penal Code which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.
While there is little doubt that Tableeghi Jamaat leaders acted irresponsibly by continuing congregations in several countries, including Pakistan, despite the threat from the coronavirus, the extreme reaction from the Indian authorities betrays the latter’s intolerant and bigoted approach towards Muslim citizens.
The action is very much in line with India’s unabashed and sustained discrimination against Muslims under the Modi regime.
The recent move to stigmatise and make an example of a Muslim community leader has not occurred in a vacuum.
It closely follows the dangerous path cemented by the ruling BJP and its Hindu supremacist outlook.
From the crackdown on India-held Kashmir, to the biased citizenship law that blatantly targets Muslims, India has over the last year been creating a suffocating atmosphere of fear and hostility for one of the largest Muslim populations in the world.
In this time of crisis, attempting to blame a race or religion can be dangerous, and will push an already battered community to the edge.
Repeated attempts by US President Donald Trump to frame the coronavirus as a ‘Chinese virus’ have resulted in a marked escalation in racism-fuelled attacks on Asian communities.
Similarly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s systematic targeting of Muslims and the impunity with which his government publicly attacks them have set the stage for grave repercussions for the community.
In the aftermath of BJP officials labelling Tableeghi leaders as “Talibani criminals” and bandying about the term “corona jihad”, a string of anti-Muslim attacks have been reported in India.
Muslim men distributing food to the poor have been beaten with cricket bats; many others have been labelled “virus spreaders”, badly beaten or chased out from their residential communities.
A report in The Guardian describes how Muslim-owned businesses have been boycotted and workers accused of spitting in food and infecting water supplies with the virus.
As the world grapples with the deadly Covid-19 phenomenon which has severe consequences for society and the economy, the Indian government must put humanity first.
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2020