Hours after Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi claimed that India was still a heaven for Muslims, social media in the Middle East erupted with outrage. Naqvi was reacting to a statement issued by the 57-member state Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) calling upon India to protect Muslim minorities in India.
The outrage triggered by Naqvi’s statement was summed up by a businesswoman from UAE, Noora Al Ghurair, who tweeted, “ Taking inspiration from what the Union Minister from India has said, I think we in the Middle East should now start treating our minorities (Hindus) from India the same way Muslims are being treated in India. We should make it ‘heaven’ for them.”
In less than an hour, six hundred comments had flooded in, many criti- cal of the Indian minister and a few saying, “Let the devils discriminate, we are not them”. The situation was clearly volatile and the Indian envoy in the UAE, Ambassador Pavan Kapoor had tweeted on April 20, “India and UAE share the value of non-discrimination on any ground. Discrimination is against our moral fabric and the Rule of Law. Indian nationals in the UAE should always remember this.”
The day after Naqvi appeared to be clueless in New Delhi and seemed to have grossly underestimated public sentiment building up in the Middle East. What added fuel to the fire were old tweets of BJP poster boy and MP Tejasvi Surya. In 2015 he had gleefully quoted a Canadian of Pakistani origin saying, “95% of Arab women have never had an orgasm in the last few hundred years”. Around the same time, he also tweeted, “A temple in Abu Dhabi. Next in Saudi? # HinduAwakening #Modi”.
Both the tweets re-surfaced this week and outraged social media users in the Middle East demanded the Indian Government take action against him. The second tweet pro- voked Ghurair to ask, “Why is he cele- brating as if he has won a battle? Why does his tweet feel like it’s got nothing to do with worship but more as a victory against Muslims?”
In the age of social media, news travels fast. And reports that Indian localities were banning Muslim vendors from entering, that in parts of the country Muslims were being denied even drinking water and that Indian TV channels, viewed across the Middle East by Indian expatriates, had been flogging Muslims for unleashing what they called ‘Corona Jihad’ had not gone unnoticed. The last straw was a newspaper advertisement by a cancer hospital in Meerut, which announced that it had stopped treating Muslims.
The bizarre justification offered was that Muslims were unruly, did not follow restric- tions and caused inconvenience to oth- ers. The advertisement was shared approvingly, even gleefully, by several Indians on social media, provoking both bewilderment and anguish. People were quick to point out that a majority of COVID-19 patients in Kuwait happened to be Indians.
An outraged Kuwaiti was quick to point out that out of a total of 1,694 Coronavirus cases then in the Emirate, as many as 964 were actually Indians and a majority of them Hindus. “You are treated in the finest hospi- tal in Kuwait...there is no difference between the religions and nationali- ties of the sick...”, exclaimed the anguished Emrati.
Indians are said to constitute between 47% and 60% of the popu- lation in UAE. Varying estimates put the number of Indian citizens work- ing in the Middle East between eight and ten million. Irresponsible posts were drawing increasing attention in the Middle East even before the pandemic.
Gulf News, the Dubai based newspaper, reported several cases of Indians warned by the police or losing their job for hate speech on social media. The chief accountant at Dubai’s Moro Hub Data Solutions Company, one Bala Krishna Nakka, was sacked after his Facebook page showed Muslims as suicide bombers, wearing bombs resembling coronavirus cells. Emrill Services, a Facilities Management (FM) company head- quartered in Dubai, also sacked Rakesh Kitturmath after he ridiculed Muslim worshippers in response to a post on coronavirus.
Abu Dhabi resident Mitesh Udeshi lost his job after he posted a cartoon mocking Islam. A police complaint was filed against Sameer Bhandari of an events management company after he told a Muslim jobseeker from India to ‘go back to Pakistan’.
In Kuwait, a branch of Burger King sacked an employee for an offensive social media post. All over the Middle East people seem to be reporting to the police anti-Muslim rants on social media, prompting many Indians to hurriedly delete their posts and shut down their social media accounts.
Criticism of Saudi Arabia’s legal system had landed Vishnu Dev Radhakrishnan (28), an engineer from Kerala, in prison in 2018. He was sen- tenced to six years’ imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 Saudi Riyal (approxi- mately Rs 28 lakh INR). But in January last year a higher court increased his jail-term to 10 years.
While these cases were earlier treated as aberrations, the incessant and unabated stream of anti-Muslim rant emanating from India and from a section of the Indian diaspora, which were then shared by Indian expatriates in the wake of the pandemic touched a raw nerve. “Hindutva terrorists love UAE, they love bread and butter that UAE is providing them, but they hate Muslims, they hate Islam,” tweeted an irate Emrati.
An agitated Abdur Rahman Nassar from Kuwait wondered how Indians could hate Muslims and Islam although Indian expats, he claimed, were sending back remittances worth 120 billion US Dollars back to India every year from 53 Islamic countries. Princess Hend Al Qassimi of the Sharjah royal family tagged an offensive five-year old social media post by BJP Member of Parliament Tajasvi Surya and warned, “this will be remembered”.
If Surya perchance became a Union minister in India, she advised, he should not step on Arab soil because he would not be welcome. Mejbel Al Sharika, a Kuwaiti lawyer, offered to take up the cause of Indian Muslims at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva while Saudi scholar Abidi Zahrani called for compiling a list of individuals working in the Middle East and spreading hatred against Muslims. I ronically, while the UAE outlaws all religious or racial discrimination under a legislation passed in 2015, India is yet to enact such a legislation.
The UAE’s anti-discrimination/anti-hatred law prohibits all acts ‘ that stoke religious hatred and/or which insult religion through any form of expression, be it speech or the written word, books, pamphlets or via online media’ and aims to fight “discrimination against individuals or groups based on religion, caste, doctrine, race, color or ethnic origin.” Many believe Prime Minister Modi could have stopped irresponsible social media posts if he wanted.
But in his three addresses to the nation in the last one month, he ignored the trend completely. When he finally wrote a LinkedIn post on April 19 that the need of the hour was unity and brotherhood, that the virus did not discriminate between castes and communities, his words did not carry much conviction. In any case they had come too late.
The Indian Government does enjoy good relations with the rulers in the Middle East. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s son has enjoyed a business relationship with a member of the Emirati royalty as well as an old Pakistani friend. Prime Minister Modi is believed to share warm vibes with several rulers and princes.
The Indian Coast Guard intercept- ed an Emirati princess fleeing to India for asylum and handed her back to the Emirate. And when UAE asked for an urgent shipment of Hydroxychloroquine, the malaria medicine said to be effective in treating COVID-19 cases, the Government of India quickly obliged. Will personal relations be enough to repair the damage and regain the goodwill that India has traditionally enjoyed in the Middle East? Will it ever be the same? Who can tell?
Less tolerant than India?
March 2020: Indian chef Trilok Singh in Dubai is fired for making an online threat to rape a Delhi-based law student over her views on the controversial Citizen Amendment Act.
January 2020: Indian expat Jayant Gokhale warned for asking Keralite job seeker Abdulla SS to go and join protestors at Shaheen Bagh instead.
March 2019: Indian security officer at Transguard Group in Dubai sacked and deported for celebrating the terror attacks on New Zealand mosques.
June 2018: Rigging supervisor at an Abu Dhabi firm fired for threatening to kill the Kerala chief minister.
June 2018: JW Marriott Marquis Hotel in Dubai terminates contract with Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar after he put up a post saying that followers of Islam had “terrorised” Hindus for 2,000 years.
April 2017: 33-year-old Indian is sacked for sending offensive Facebook messages to Indian journalist Rana Ayyub.
(Courtesy: Gulf News)