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Sunday , November 29 2020

Indian Govt blaming Muslims for coronavirus cases

Ruling party spreads false news and hatred against Muslims

NEW DELHI, April 25, (AP): India’s government is blaming an Islamic missionary meeting for a surge in coronavirus cases, triggering a wave of violence, business boycotts and hate speech toward Muslims that experts warn could worsen the pandemic in the world’s second-most populous country.

The stigma faced by India’s Muslims, poorer and with less access to health care than other groups, is making health workers’ battle against the virus even tougher, according to veterans of other epidemics.

Some among 29 people arrested by Indian authorities board an ambulance as they are taken to a prison from a quarantine center in Prayagraj, India, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Indian authorities say they have arrested 29 people, including 16 foreign nationals who had participated in an Islamic missionary meeting last month in New Delhi that resulted in a large cluster of coronavirus cases in the country. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

India has about 24,500 confirmed coronavirus cases – about one in five of which have been linked to the missionary meeting – and 775 deaths, and the outbreak may not peak until June. “Not only is the (Muslim) community at a higher risk of being infected, but they will also be at a high risk of spreading the virus,” said Dr. Anant Bhan, a bioethics and global health expert. “It becomes a cycle that will continue.”

About 8,000 people in the Tablighi Jamaat congregation met for three days in March at the group’s compound in the crowded Nizamuddin area of New Delhi, shortly before the Indian government banned large gatherings.

The compound stayed open, later giving shelter to people stranded in a 21-day lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, according to the group’s spokesman, Mujeeb ur Rehman.

FILE – In this April 13, 2020, file photo, a group of Indian Muslims carry their relative who died due to natural reasons for burial during 21-day nationwide lockdown to control the spread of the new coronavirus in New Delhi, India. Muslims in India are being stigmatized after the government blamed an Islamic missionary meeting for a surge in coronavirus cases. Experts who have studied previous epidemics warn that the stigma could hamper efforts to stop the contagion and prevent many from getting themselves tested. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)

On the second day of the lockdown, a government raid on the compound discovered the largest virus cluster in India. Police filed a case against some of the group’s leaders for violating the ban, a charge the group denies. Officials said Tuesday they have arrested 29 people, including 16 foreigners, who participated in the missionary meeting.

India’s communal fault lines, still stressed by deadly riots over a new naturalization law that excludes Muslims, were split wide open by the allegations against Jamaat.

FILE – In this April 21, 2020, file photo, a Muslim man, among 29 people arrested by Indian authorities, sits inside an ambulance before being taken to a prison from a quarantine center in Prayagraj, India. Muslims in India are being stigmatized after the government blamed an Islamic missionary meeting for a surge in coronavirus cases. Experts who have studied previous epidemics warn that the stigma could hamper efforts to stop the contagion and prevent many from getting themselves tested. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh, File)

Incident
Politicians in Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party were quoted on TV and in newspapers describing the Jamaat incident as “corona terrorism.”

False news targeting Muslims began to circulate, including video clips purportedly showing congregation members spitting on authorities. The clips were quickly proven to be fake, yet by April 1, the hashtag “CoronaJihad” was trending on Twitter in India.

Lav Aggarwal, joint secretary of India’s health ministry, repeatedly called out the congregation by name in daily news briefings. On April 5, he said the number of virus cases was doubling in just 4.1 days, and would have been a slower 7.4 days “if the additional … cases due to the Tablighi Jamaat meeting would not have arisen.”

That same day, Dilshad Mohammad took his life. Panic, blame and stigma were spreading across India when the 37-year-old chicken peddler was shunned by his neighbors in Bangarh, a village in the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh, for giving two members of the Jamaat congregation a ride to their village on his scooter.

Neighbors accused him of deliberately trying to infect them with the virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. In deeply polarized India, some Modi critics have suggested that the government singled out the Jamaat congregation for strategic reasons.

The “vilification of Muslims was done to hide the government’s mismanagement in dealing with the virus and their callousness,” said Professor Tanweer Fazal, a sociologist at the University of Hyderabad. Aggarwal, the health ministry spokesman, declined to respond. On Sunday, Modi tweeted that the coronavirus does not discriminate based on race, religion or creed.

“Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together,” he said. His remarks came hours after the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s human rights body condemned the “unrelenting vicious Islamophobic campaign in India maligning Muslims for spread of COVID-19.”

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