Don’t Communalise: Fight against Superstition and Arrogance of Ignorance

Manzoor Ali

The unprecedented vilification of a religious gathering in Delhi by the Indian media, some even calling it Corona Jihad, shows the systemic use of communal card by the ruling dispensation in the country. It once again shows the fact that Muslims, as the largest minority group in India, is always on trial in the eyes of majoritarian political groups. The incident of Tabligh though is a sign of systemic failures in the country also provides a strong evidence of deep-rooted prejudices in society ready to be exploited for political gains.

India was ‘half-awake’ up to the danger of COVID-19 on 22nd March 2020 with a 14 hours ‘Janta Curfew’ announced by the PM. It was half-awake because people, especially admirer and supporters of BJP and PM Modi, took out a sort of victory rallies in many parts of India at 5 pm on the same day. The idea of ‘Janta Curfew’ was self-imposed social distancing by the people. With the rallies, the whole purpose was defeated.

The way ‘Janta Curfew’ was propagated among the masses through various social media was bound to have such implications. Many myths shrouded in the religious coating were put to work which caused such irrational behaviour. It was argued that noise from clapping hands, banging utensils and blowing conch would certainly kill viruses causing COVID-19. Many celebrities tweeted and forwarded such message which was sheer superstitious. Much misinformation was doing round previously, especially from the right-wing brigade, which makes people think that India can easily defeat the COVID-19 by following majority’s belief system.

On 14th March, Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha organised Gau Mutra Party (Cow Urine Party) with a claim that it can help ‘them’ fight COVID-19.[1] Around 200 people attended that event. At many places, it was found that believers of majority’s faith bathing in ‘gobar’ (Cow dung) to fight Corona. A National General Secretary of BJP proclaimed that Corona cannot harm us (Hindus) as we have 33 crore deities to protect us. Another BJP leader and currently minister in Union government asked people to expose themselves to sunlight for 15 minutes to ward of Corona. A CM of BJP ruled state asked to go ahead with Annual Ram Navmi Celebration. Later, the program was cancelled. On March 2, a BJP MLA from Assam claimed that cow urine and cow dung could be used to combat the outbreak.[2]

There have been many such examples, which wanted to push forward the majority religious belief system and pseudo-science against the science. It is not a standalone case during COVID-19 outbreak, rather a continuation of Hindutva’s cultural propaganda to prove the supremacy of ancient tradition and practice. For instance, beliefs such as cow dung can protect humans from harmful radiation, cow urine has gold in it and it can cure cancer are propagated without hesitation.

Once 21 days lockdown strictly implemented with insufficient planning, panicked daily-wagers mostly from poor/lower classes without social security cover started reverse migration in herds. The same middle class asked the administration to shoot the violators. They found the necessary villain among the poor. The right-wing propaganda machinery got out from their inertia and tried to theorise the exodus as ‘Communist Conspiracy’ and ‘heinous work of the AAP’ to prove the failure of their supreme leader’s efforts. However, given the limited political presence of the Communists in India, it seems they were waiting for an opportunity to give the entire episode a religious colour and indict their favourite enemy, Muslims, somehow.

The first attempt was made to target the anti-CAA protests across the country. These were gatherings of people, mostly made of Muslims. Despite the fact that protestors at Shaheen Bagh took all necessary steps to continue with their resistance in the context of Corona, all hell broke when one positive case of Corona was found in a family member of a protestor in Jaffrabad, who had returned from Saudi Arabia after performing Umrah (a short religious pilgrimage). In this context, the continuation of protest, post the announcement of lockdown was termed as Islamist conspiracy to destabilise the nation.[3] The campaign ended fast due to the decision taken by the organisers to lift those protests soon after the announcement of the nationwide lockdown on March 25.
The success of propaganda against anti-CAA gatherings enthused right-wing propagandists who started looking for further incidents associated with Muslims to strengthen their conspiracy theory. Programmes of Tabligh Jamat’s members in various parts of the country gave them that opportunity to use Corona for their agenda to further divide the country on religious lines.

OpIndia[4], an overtly right-wing website, on 26 March “reported” that 11 foreign Maulvis, including 3 Chinese were “hiding” in a Ranchi mosque. The website alleged that they were “hiding” with the help of local Muslim preachers. It was very clear that the “news” intended to project the incident as some kind of Islamic and Chinese collaboration against India. Akshay Narang (25 March 2020) presented a sensational headline “From Bihar to Tamil Nadu: Foreign Islamic preachers have caused a real headache for the authorities fighting Coronavirus” in the same website.[5] Before that, news came from Patna that 50 foreigners are “hiding” in a mosque. Later on, it was found that only 12 Foreigner were there and they entered India before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the country on January 30, 2020.

But, with the death of 7 people who came in Tabligh Jamat programme and 128 positive cases, Nizamuddin Markaz of Tabligh emerged as the manifestation of all that is wrong with the Muslims vis-à-vis India and the world. It was reported that around 2500 people gathered in New Delhi, including many foreigners who might have spread the virus. Now, there have been clarifications issued by the head of the Markaz that they have informed local administration about the people stranded due to ‘Janta Curfew’ and subsequent 21 days lockdown. They also sought vehicle permissions to take out the stranded members. But, none of these is audible in communally charged environment where the Hindutva ideologues ruling the country are looking for a scapegoat to divert the attention from their administrative and policy failures. The atmosphere is so charged that a FIR against the Markaz has been sought by even Delhi government.

There is no doubt that stern action should be taken against this clear case of stupidity at this crucial time. Even if the programme was planned for a year or for six months, looking at the health issues of so many people, it should have been called off by the organisers. But, madness in proving their true faith, especially during an epidemic, comes from the arrogance of ignorance. It is ignorance because in the scriptures on which most of the maulanas tried to justify their staying on in large groups with foreigners amidst them are full of examples in which Muslims are advised to use reason.

There are many hadiths and examples in Quran which guide Muslims in such a scenario. For example, Prophet strongly disapproved all kinds of nonchalance and admonished his followers with a clear instruction that one should first take necessary measures and then rely upon Allah. It is narrated in the book of Hadith that “One day Prophet noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, ‘Why don’t you tie down your camel?’ The Bedouin answered, ‘I put my trust in Allah’. The Prophet then said, ‘Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah’.

Quarantine is a key measure prescribed by the WHO to mitigate the impact of coronavirus. Prophet gave instructions on what to do if there is an outbreak of any infectious epidemic. Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf said: “I heard the Messenger “If you hear that (the plague) is in a land, do not go there, and if it breaks out in a land where you are, do not leave, fleeing from it.” Taking a cue from such teaching, Saudi Arabia has stopped taking in religious pilgrims for now. In many Muslim countries, Azaan (call for prayers) has been modified to keep Muslims at home. Singapore mosque, for example, asked people to bring their own mats and Iran called off Friday prayers altogether.

Though, as argued Islam can be flexible and Qiyas (deductive analogy) and Ijma (consensus after discussion) can be used to make it more progressive and up to date. However, foolishness and dogmatism adopted by the organisers of Tabligh markaz in Nizammudin has provided enough ammunitions to the majoritarian communalism in India to propagate that Islam is non-flexible, rigid and other-worldly. A so-called news channel, Sudarshan news, put a provocative headline “Corona Jihad”[6] for one of its programmes. Others called it a “Talibani Crime by Tablighi Jamaat. This is not negligence. It’s a serious criminal act. When the entire country is fighting united against Corona, such a sin is unpardonable”, argued Union Minister for Minorities Affairs.[7] The right-wing deliberately forgets that Tabligh gathering was not the only such gathering happening at the time. In fact, at the time of the Tabligh gathering no instructions were issued by the government of India to desist meeting in large groups. Even the Parliament was functioning between March 2 and March 23. Hatemongers ignored the fact that Madhya Pradesh Assembly witnessed large gathering amid change of power in favour of BJP during exactly those days when formal instructions were issued. Tirupati Balaji Temple had as usual gathering of devotees until 19 March.[8] Hence, the selective outrage against Tabligh’s religious activity is nothing but explicit exhibition of majoritarian arrogance.

To conclude, thanks to Covid-19 pandemic India has witnessed competing versions of stupidity. Both of them have emerged from religious understanding and lack of scientific temper. Hindutva supporters and enthusiasts believe that cow urine, dung, conch sound, yoga, sunlight exposure, camphor and tulsi burning protect us from Corona. Though, Tabligh members never claimed that their religious gathering will protect them from Corona, their thinking that death and birth are only caused by the Almighty and if their day has come, nobody will stop it is as absurd. One will die due to superstition and others due to the arrogance in ignorance. Meanwhile, we are the nation which has found communalism in Corona. I am sure once India comes out of the fear of COVID-19, it will have an impending task to find the ways to defeat communalism.


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The Author is Assistant Professor, Giri Institute of Development Studies, Lucknow