Corona clusters of Nizamuddin and Morena expose society’s prejudice and State’s myopia

Sarvesh, Abdul Hafiz Gandhi & Tehzeeb Alam
Morena in Madhya
Pradesh has emerged as a new hotspot of Covid-19, where after a teharavi
10 people were tested positive. Around 26,000 people in the locality
were advised for home quarantining for 14 days. The drone search is being
carried out in the area. The infected person came from Dubai on March 17 and
organised the bhoj on March 20. Many more corona positive cases are
coming to light and the whole area is being cordoned off. Like in most of the
other countries India too took quite long to assess the gravity of the problem
and failed to check the entry points, where the problem could have been nipped
in the bud. Now places like Morena and Nizamuddin are bursting at the seams and
posing dangers to the already precarious situation. People entering India
through airports should have been properly checked and quarantined. Concerned
authorities failed in discharging this basic obligation and as a result people
unintentionally carried the virus to their respective destinations. Moreover,
the government officials failed to communicate the seriousness of the health
hazards on time to the people.

Threat: Central government’s delayed and confused response
More such
clusters of potential cases may crop up because of the people’s lack of
awareness and government’s myopic and delayed efforts. Till March 13,
Central government officials were of the view that there is no health emergency
in the country. The Tablighi Jamaat congregation is no different from Morena
incident. But yardsticks adopted in both the incidents are not the same. Morena
incident is taken to be innocent gathering while the Jamaat’s congregation is
being criminalised and stigmatized. Both these incidents happened
before the Janta Curfew of March 22. Lack of public awareness is the
main reason for such mis-happenings. Confusing information, politicians’ own
unchecked behaviour and elites’ celebratory mode added to the non-serious
approach. For a long time, after what was happening in China and Italy India
had all signs of normalcy. In retrospect, it is clear that there has been a
clear lack of vision and foresightedness on the part of the government. This panic
and chaos which is unleashing now, particularly among the working classes,
could have been minimised if the government had taken timely and strong actions.

Instead of
acknowledging the mistakes and loopholes, the government indulged in
conjuring up already existing prejudices against the Muslim community. Criminalising
the Tablighi Jamaat is an attempt to shift the accountability. Both Tablighi
Jamaat and Morena incidents happened before March 22 much before serious
lockdown started. Even after serious lockdown people visited temples on Ram
Navami in West Bengal. In Telangana ministers participated in the religious
ceremonies on the occasion of Ram Navami violating every norm of the social
distancing. All these events have the potential of putting people in danger but
mainstream media and public in general are only seeing Tablighi Jamaat
members as dreaded criminals. Since people have not been much aware about
the existence and functioning of Tablighi Jamaat, they jumped to conclusions
more quickly when reports of COVID-19 infections propped up in the Nizamuddin
Markaz. It is often seen that people don’t give a generous interpretation to
the things associated with communities and families other than their own.
Something similar happened in the case of Tablighi Jamaat.

and Society’s attempts to criminalise Jamaat’s intentions
Considering the
chronology of the events, the Jamaat’s intention cannot be doubted because the
concerned religious congregation was going on during the period when there was
no official health emergency. It was their usual practice to gather and venture
out in small groups for religious preaching not only to different parts of
India but the world over. It is part of their regular functioning. It is
ironical that this particular sect is facing the public wrath and distrust in
the current crisis because this sect to the contrary has been critiqued by some
other Muslim sects for making Muslims inactive as they focus more on prayers
than concrete actions for the social and educational advancement of Muslims.
Their basic tenets include six teachings – Kalima (Declaration of faith), Salah
(5 times prayers), Ilm-o-zikr (religious knowledge), Ikram-e-muslim (Respect of
muslims), Ikhlas-e-niyat (Sincerity of intention) and Tablighi-e-waqt (Sparing
time for faith). They have never gone beyond these teachings.

and exclusion of Muslim Community: The Constant and Situational stigmatization

Since COVID-19
is a novel disease, nobody was mentally prepared nor trained to tackle it and
therefore blaming Jamaat for breaching the social distancing norm is uncalled
for. Criminalizing their intention would only divert our attention and derail
the efforts for containing the pandemic. 

The Jamaat
congregation was organised from March 13-15, when normal activities were going
on in every aspect of life- be it social, commercial or religious. Hence,
nobody can attribute ulterior motives to the Jamaat’s religious congregation.
Despite this fact, the incident has put the Muslims in a tight spot furthering
the stigmatization of the community. People have started talking – “Musalman hi
hamesha kyon dikkat paida karte hain aur roda bante hain.” This statement has
to be seen in combination with other statements like ‘Babar ki Aulad’ and
popular understanding that they are responsible for partition and every Muslim
is a suspect and disloyal to the country. There is double stigmatisation of
Muslim community – one stigma is constant and the other is situational. The
constant stigma comes from religious and cultural practices exemplified through
slogans like “hum paanch humare pachchees.” The situational stigma comes from
incidents like terror attacks or spread of diseases like COVID. Slogans like
“every Muslim is not a terrorist but every terrorist is a Muslim” and ideas
like love jihad are used to demonize the community.

The prejudices
against Muslim community in India have often concretised and re-surfaced during
and after every major crisis, COVID-19 being the recent one. This process of
stigmatization has historical, cultural and social roots leading to alienation
of the Muslim community arresting their physical and social mobility and
exposing them to threats of life and property. As the nature of COVID-19 is
virulently contagious, it will further deplete opportunities for Muslims in
terms of getting houses on rent, education and jobs especially in the
hospitality and transport sectors because of people’s prejudice. Incidents of
cancellation of Zomato and Ola cab services by customers for delivery
boy/driver being a Muslim are still fresh in our memory. Again, there are
vilifying messages doing rounds on WhatsApp groups about Muslims’ behavior and
intentions. It is said that they have malicious intention against other
communities and they try to contaminate their food by spitting on it. Media is
also not sparing Muslims and labeling them as “corona bombs”. This
stigmatization and alienation will further marginalize the community. As a consequence,
they will be deprived of their right of access to justice. Citizenship Amendment
Act, 2019, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register are
recent attempts at the deprivation of constitutional rights available to
Muslims. The marriage of CAA and NRC will snatch citizenship of lakhs of
Muslims in India. Since, citizenship is a ‘right to have rights’, the loss of
citizenship would certainly mean the deprivation of basic human and fundamental
rights of the Muslims.

This community
seems to be already under the spell of depression. When an individual or a
group is cornered repeatedly, its confidence goes down many notches, leading to
the problem of further ghettoization. This will only create schisms perennially
opposed to each other reducing the chances of reconciliation, cross-pollination
of cultures and ideas. 

is a by-product of gradual and continuous process of vilification. False
notions and facts are made to look real by repetitive mentioning. The same
tactics are being employed in the case of Jamaat. The reports of spitting by
some of the Tablighi Jamaat members have been fact-checked and proved to be
wrong and they can easily be cross-checked by simple internet searches. The
false reports doing the rounds on social media can be seen as a part of the
larger design to malign a community. The FIRs were registered in Uttar Pradesh
against Jamat members for misbehaving with doctors and nurses. In times, where
state institutions are prejudiced against a particular community these FIRs
might be the propaganda to depict the whole community in a bad light. These
alleged reports of misbehavior by Jamaat members are not coming from southern
states like Tamil Nadu or Kerala. Why? Here, we need to ponder over the
politics of north India and specifically of Uttar Pradesh. South India to a
great extend was untouched with the partition woe. The partition produced
prejudices and hatred on both sides of the border. Moreover, Uttar Pradesh was
the prominent site of Ramjanmbhoomi-Babri Masjid controversy. It is because of
this the religious divide is stronger in UP and politics is based on religious
polarisation. The record of UP government-led by Yogi Adityanath is not without
any blemish. There were instances, where severe atrocities were committed by
police during anti-CAA protests in December, 2019. Posters naming and shaming
the anti-CAA protestors were put up in Lucknow in March, 2020 without giving
the alleged rioters any opportunity to defend themselves.

In addition to
it, north India has had its own experiences, where state institutions were
biased against marginalized and vulnerable sections. For instance, 42 young men
were gunned down by Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) in Hashimpura,
Meerut on 22 May, 1987. The case lingered on in trial court for years. In 2002,
the Supreme Court transferred the case from Ghaziabad to Tis Hazari trial
court in Delhi on the petition of the families of victims. The Tis Hazari court
acquitted all 16 PAC personnel in March, 2015 due to insufficient
evidence. This decision of acquittal by trial court was set aside by Delhi High
Court in 2018 convicting 16 accused PAC personnel and observed that
“massacre of 42 persons of a minority community in Hashimpura was targeted
killing of unarmed and defenseless persons. Families had to wait 31 years for

Looking into the recent history and politics of north Indian states, one would
get a sense that maximum incidents of lynching had occurred in Hindi heartland,
where police seemed to have been hand in gloves with the culprits- the
Gau-Rakshaks. Politics over cow is the marker of north Indian political

The mainstream
and social media are creating scenes as if Tablighi Jamaat was extremely
negligent. There are reasons for Jamaat members for not coming forward for
check-ups and sharing their travel history as there is stigma, fear and lack of
proper facilities at government hospitals and isolation centres. They also fear
filing of false criminal cases against them. In this context, we need to
understand that the responsibility of individuals, groups or State varies in
degree because of the power structure. State having the largest responsibility
cannot shirk it and blame the lesser entities. The fact that the police station
is very close, less than 100 meters, to the place where Jamaat’s Markaz was happening
it is very unlikely that police was not aware of the presence of the foreigners
at the Markaz. The police must be having all the information but neither the
police nor the government took timely action of cautioning about the severity
of the health complications or of quarantining the foreigners.   

No defense of
Tablighi Jamaat
Our purpose of
writing this piece is not to support the religious ideology of any group. We
are not concerned with that. Neither we support the highly irresponsible
speeches allegedly given by Jamaat’s Chief Maulana Mohammad Saad in a viral
audio clip, where he is alleged to have said that Corona is the conspiracy
against Islam. He also allegedly said that “The disease will pass, but
eating from the same plate, it will benefit us… This is a plan to end amity
between Muslims, to alienate them from each other.” Our only objective is
to highlight that the intentions of holding the usual religious congregation by
a group cannot be criminalised and this particular group cannot be solely held
responsible for the spread of the Covid-19. There were other religious
gatherings held during the same time by people belonging to different religions
which were not targeted by the state apparatus. The organisers’ intentions were
not doubted or criminalised. This shows the double standards of the state
institutions in dealing with cases of similar nature.

Making State
more accountable and responsive
The Tablighi
Jamaat fiasco also questions our education system, which could not teach us the
basic values of empathy, self-reflection and reasonability. We need a better
understanding of society, history, cultures and communities to refrain us from biased
takes on issues. Our education system also has to be majorly reworked. That is
also the state’s responsibility.

People should
help the state become a more responsible entity by constant questioning and
critiquing the state functioning and policies instead of allowing it to become
authoritarian. People have to take things in their own hands and start thinking
critically as the mainstream media is not helping in this task.

In the
current crisis, our purpose is not fault-finding and blaming the government but
if there are lapses in preparations for a situation as grave as Covid-19 pandemic,
those lapses and how to fix them need to be pointed out. The state should
concentrate on remedying the lapses than blaming, criminalising the intentions
and vilifying communities. The people are not required to surrender to the
diktats of the state, they need to be vigilant to its acts. Loopholes are to be
fixed with correct location of problems. Fixing state’s accountability by
people is an indicator of a functional democracy.

To conclude, Jamaat,
Morena and migrants’ incidents have actually exposed Indian state’s inability
to handle the crisis of such a great magnitude. When such mishandling can
happen in the capital of the country under immediate supervision of central and
state governments what to say about the smaller states having limited
infrastructure. Occurrences like these are not the result of community’s
failure but the consequence of lack of state’s foresight and preparedness.
Hence, the cases of Markaz or Morena need to be seen as lessons to be learnt
for the future.
Sarvesh is Assistant Professor (Sociology), Centre for Women’s Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, 
Abdul Hafiz Gandhi is Assistant Professor of Law, Unity
PG Degree and Law College, Lucknow 
Tehzeeb Alam is Research Scholar,
Aligarh Muslim University.