Pity the Indian Muslim, the new untouchable

Victims of the pandemic, politics and panic, the Indian Muslim is the new untouchable

 Pity the Indian Muslim, the new untouchable

Zafar Agha

He is now in the company of Dalits and is ‘untouchable’, thanks to the Indian media. A systematic and organised campaign by the media blaming the Tablighi jamaat congregation atits Delhi Markazfor spread of the coronavirus has transformed Muslims into ‘’Cornoa jihadis’’ in the perception of Hindu masses .

In the perception of Hindu masses. The reluctant admission of the Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan that the failure of Indians who returned from abroad to report to the authorities, and the failure of the authorities to trace them led to the spurt of COVID-19 cases in the state, has done little to change the perception. The damage is done.

The vicious campaign--designed partly to deflect attention from the Government’s failings in dealing with the pandemic— has had a deadly impact on the ground. The Indian Muslim is no longer just marginalised in every walk of life, which he has been for decades in any case, he is now deemed to be untouchable. Indeed, the Indian Muslim for the first time in history is facing the kind of untouchability that even Dalits once faced.

Social untouchability is for the Indian Muslim the new reality. If a vegetable vendorgoes by the name of Rafeeq, he is refused entry in many gated colonies. A Gujarat hospital segregated Hindu and Muslim patients, prompting Muslim academics to conclude that it was a matter of time before water is also segregated on communal lines. A private hospital in Meerut released a newspaper advertisement announcing it would not admit any Muslim patient till the pandemic lasts. The message was unambiguous.

True, Muslim social segregation is not new. Muslim ghettoization is an old story. The racial apartheid that the Blacks had to face in South Africa and the United States is what the Indian Muslim increasingly faced and accepted. The hierarchical Indian society, which believes in putting people in their place in neat silos, doesn’t find it abhorrent. Some people must always know their inferior place in society. Dalits have been through this and now Muslims are experiencing how untouchability hurts.

The social and political purpose of apartheid is to make a particular race, caste or community accept ‘second class citizenship’. BJP and the RSS have now put Muslimsin the category of social‘untouchables’.

The Indian media have acted as foot soldiers of the BJP and the RSS in preparing the ground for the social and economic boycott of the Muslims. That it has come at a time of great global slowdown and a pandemic which has made life even more uncertain, must have been a coincidence. With people focused on their lives and livelihood, the Indian media’s campaign in holding Tablighi Jamaat solely responsible for the spread of the virus has vitiated social and political discourse. It also shifted attention from more urgent tasks at hand.

It was easy to blame the Jamaat for holding a congregation with four thousand people, many of them from abroad, in attendance. With the pandemic raging, it would have been prudent to call off the annual meet. But it is also true that the Health Ministry had stated on March 13, the day the event started, that there was no cause for alarm, that there was no health emergency in India. Visas to the foreign delegates were also issued by the Government, which could not have remained oblivious to the event.

It did not come as a surprise when the Indian media glossed over the much larger congregations held long after the Tablighi Jamaat event ended; nor when a prominent TV channel claimed that a Madrasa in the heart of Delhi had hidden small children during the lockdown. The coverage was done with great deliberation, not in ignorance, to present the Government and the BJP with the ‘other’. Both needed an enemy to hide failings.

The virus and scapegoating of Tablighi Jamaat came in handy. Demonisation of the Indian Muslim, first linking them to terror and now to a deadly virus, served a political purpose. The RSS in fact has been active for several decades to reduce Indian Muslims to second class citizens. It is not unlikely that politics, pandemic and panic induced social untouchability of Muslims will come to stay and become a permanent feature of our society.

Unfortunately, Muslims can do little or nothing to allay suspicion, which is also a virus. There is nothing they can do or say that will persuade already persuaded people to see reason and behave rationally. They have nobody to turn to. And the Mullahs can be trusted to make a silly comment or two for the RSS and the BJP to latch on and perpetuate the canard. So, pity the Muslim. They are the neo Dalits.

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