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Covid-19: 'Scapegoating' of minorities in Gujarat took blame away from state liability

Counterview Desk 

A 96-page report, prepared by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS), Mumbai, “The Covid Pandemic: A Report on the Scapegoating of Minorities in India”, has sought to document how the process of strengthening communal polarization was undertaken amidst the pandemic in six states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Orissa and Tamil Nadu.
Claiming to understand the dynamics of majority-minority and the attitude of the ruling dispensation, Irfan Engineer, who heads CSSS, insists, facts presented in this report “would not only help deal with the pandemic like disasters more effectively, but it would also ensure that religions play a positive role in motivating people to help each other in such situations.”
Those who have helped scan the media and compile the data include Dhirendra Panda, Dani Chandrakant, Ibad Razaa, Hozefa Ujjaini, Mushtaq Ali, Rahul Rajeev, Uday (Paridhi), Sr Robancy Helen, Adv SG Alli Chandrakumar, and Dipshikha Vaishnav (Programme Coordinator, CSSS). Most of whom were “in the forefront of carrying out distribution of relief materials during the pandemic to those who were stranded”, the report -- which focuses on events a year ago -- says.  

Gujarat excerpts:

Vijay Rupani, the Chief Minister of Gujarat pinned the blame on Tablighi Jamaat:
“When the people who attended the Jamaat entered Gujarat, the Covid-19 infection spread like a forest fire. The data is proof of the same… A large number of people from the Jamaat hid their travel history and did not cooperate with the administration. Due to this, we had to take legal actions against them… Around 75 per cent of the cases in Ahmedabad are from 25 per cent of the geographical region. This 25 per cent is in the Walled City area, and is dominated by those who attended the Tablighi Jamaat gatherings in Delhi.”
While it is a fact that 1500 people from Gujarat attended the Tablighi Jamaat conference in Delhi and some of them did return with infection; it is also a fact that there is complete segregation of Hindu and Muslim living areas in cities in Gujarat, Muslims are ghettoized in limited areas in three main cities – Ahmadabad, Surat and Vadodara – and Covid 19 spread with ease in these areas.
Nevertheless, there are at least two other major factors that can be attributed to the large number of Covid 19 cases in Gujarat –
a) Gujarat is a highly globalised state. There is normally a huge inflow of people from abroad so also outflow of people from Gujarat for trade, business, tourism, work, or to come home. And, between second half of January and end of March too there was substantial movement to and from Gujarat. Thermal testing was done at airports and 14-days quarantine was recommended for the travelers but implementation was not thorough; and,
b) Namaste Trump, the two days (February 24 and 25) mega event planned at Ahmadabad and Agra as part of President Trump’s India visit. More than 100,000 people lined up along the road from the airport to Motera Cricket Stadium, more than 100,000 people were inside the stadium; and hundreds and hundreds of artists performed at the stadium and at fifty stages set long the route taken by President Trump.
However, this event was never mentioned anywhere as the ‘single source’ or ‘super spreader’. When some chatter did happen on social media, OpIndia twisted it saying, “If it was indeed the Namaste Trump event that triggered the coronavirus pandemic in Ahmadabad, then one can safely assume that the overwhelming Muslim population in Ahmadabad loves Prime Minister Modi and United States President Donald Trump and well, this is indeed Achhe Din!”
The Chief Minister’s statement on Tablighi Jamaat takes the blame away from the state regarding the abysmal health infrastructure and delayed response to tackle the pandemic. One news report said that during 2018-19 Gujarat government spent around Rs10,000 crore on health and family welfare, which works out to less than Rs 5 per person in Gujarat. While the blame is taken away from the state, a discourse targeting Muslims is re-activated. His statement worsened the anti-Muslim feeling in the state...
... In Gujarat, social media was rife with fake news and hate stories targeting Muslims. A message that went viral called for social and economic boycott of Muslims. It said Tablighis gathered 2500 Covid 19 positive Muslims and sent them across the country to spread the disease and warned people from buying fruits and vegetables from Muslims.
TV9 Gujarati aired a CCTV footage showing a Muslim man at a petrol pump reaching for his pocket to make a payment and dropping something on the ground. It then went on to say that the man dropped a Rs. 20 note intentionally to spread coronavirus. An ABP News anchor Vikas Bhaduria tweeted the video saying “Did he purposely drop the note or it fell by mistake? What could be his intentions?”
Within days the tweet drew 2.5 lakh views and 6000 retweets. Alt News did a check on the footage and found that the man was partially paralyzed on his right hand, which is why the currency dropped from his hand.
Another video that was widely shared in Gujarat was that of a mob pelting stones at police vehicles with the claim that Muslims gathered on roads despite the existing curfew. “Look at what Muslims do after the prayers, as they gathered in hundreds. Police had to run away as they started stone pelting…” Actually, the video was of December 2019 anti-CAA protests in Ahmadabad.
In another case, a mentally unsound man entered a mosque in Bhuj at around 2:20 am and sounded the Azaan (call for prayer) over the loudspeakers. According to the Sub Inspector of Bhuj A Division, the man announced he was the “king of Kutch” and people should wake up and come out of their houses with their weapons.” The police arrested the man later.
However, OpIndia, the rightwing news portal reported it as the mosque authorities had call the community members to come out with their weapons. The news item deliberately left out the Police report about the mentally unstable man. On April 1, a confidential letter from the special branch of Ahmadabad Police emerged on social media.
The post read, “2500 Tablighi Jamaat workers had attended the Nizamuddin Markaz event in Delhi and have been confirmed positive for coronavirus and the workers have entered various states of India to spread the disease which is a terror act. All Hindu brothers are requested not to buy any fruit or vegetable from Muslim vendors in their respective areas as they might be infected.”
The social media post looked as if the Ahmadabad Police was circulating hate speech against a minority community. But a civil engineer running a computer repair shop in Vadodara had morphed an internal confidential letter of the Special Branch which was meant to warn police stations of a hate message.
Some social media messages went to the extent of blaming Muslims for the India-Pakistan ceasefire violation: “Ye jo attacks ho rahe hain, wo sajish lag rahe hain kuchh corona infected ko ghusane ki jugaad to nahin hai, corona jihad ki agli installment bhejne ki.” Another warned Hindus to stay united against corona jihad: “As Al Qaeda in a letter urged Indian Muslims to unite, gather arms and wage jihad against India, Hindus need to remain united and safe as they have already started with corona jihad. Next could be anything.”
On April 10 the news magazine Desh Gujarat reported the Gujarat DGP Shivanand Jha saying that cyber cell of the Gujarat police had blocked 165 accounts on various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok across the State.
On April 28, the Times of India reported the Ahmadabad cyber police station had written to the various service providers to block another 323 social media accounts from across the State for spreading rumors and hate messages – 263 Facebook accounts, 55 Twitter accounts, 3 Instagram accounts and one account each of WhatsApp and YouTube.On May 4, the Economic Times quoted DGP Shivanand Jha that 623 FIRs had been lodged against social media users spreading fake news or rumors; 1302 people had been arrested, and 575 social media accounts had been suspended...
... Violation of visa conditions was the main charge that was leveled against the foreign participants. As early as April 1, the Gujarat High Court took it upon itself by way of a suo motu action (“Suo Motu vs State of Gujarat”). In its order, the High Court asked the government to
(a) furnish details of all the Tablighi Jamaat members who arrived in Gujarat after attending the congregation at Nizamuddin Markaz;
(b) directed the Central and State governments to inform what corrective or punitive measures were being taken, or could be taken, if the participants from abroad were found to have travelled to India and travelled within India in violation of Visa rules; and,
(c) citing the difference between tourist visa and missionary visa, the Court offered a solution to the government that: 
“Any person entering India on tourist visa is not permitted to indulge into any religious activities much less any religious congregation being attended and the same can be considered to be violation of visa granted to such foreigner. In case of any visa violation, the action can be taken against such foreigner upon it being brought to the notice of the authorities which includes penal proceedings as also deportation with immediate effect”. 
Considering that most of the foreign Tablighi Jamaat participants had come to India on tourist visas, FIRs were filed against them for violating visa norms...
... In Gujarat, the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, a government-run hospital, set aside 1,200 beds for coronavirus patients but created separate wards for Hindu and Muslim patients. The Medical Superintendent of the hospital, Dr Gunvant H Rathore told the news reporters that the segregation was made as per the directive issued by the government of Gujarat. “It is a decision of the government and you can ask them.”
The Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister of Gujarat, Nitin Patel denied knowledge of such directive, “I am not aware of such a decision… Generally, there are separate wards for males and females. I will enquire about it.” The Ahmedababd Collector, KK Nirala also reiterated that no such instruction was given by the government. “There has been no such instruction from our side and we are not aware of any such government decision.”
The Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum (PMSF), an organization of doctors and scientists condemned such segregation of patients on the basis of religion and demanded an unconditional apology from the Gujarat Chief Minister and the dismissal of the Deputy Chief Minister.
When the international community reacted, for example, USCIRF tweeted, “Such actions only help to further increase ongoing stigmatization of Muslims in India and exacerbate false rumors of Muslims spreading Covid 19”; India’s official response made by the MEA Spokesperson, Anurag Srivastava was, “As if its peremptory commentary on religious freedom in India is not enough, the USCIRF is now spreading misguided reports on the professional medical protocols followed to deal with spread of Covid 10 in India.”
On May 8, there was a clash between the police and a crowd of people at Shahpur in Ahmedabad. Shahpur is a Muslim majority area and it had been declared a containment zone after the Tablighi Jamaat incident. On the said day, it was during the Ramzan season, some women stepped out in the evening to buy milk. The police stopped them. Three men sitting outside came to argue with the police which led to a scuffle.
Soon, the scuffle attracted others and the people accused the law-enforcers of harassing the minority community in the holy month of Ramadan blaming them for enforcing a stricter lockdown than elsewhere in the city – where a sudden ban on the sale of fruits and vegetables was announced two days ago with only milk and medicines available.
The following day, the police went berserk and arrested 20 people with brute use of force. The policemen barged into homes, dragged the men outside and thrashed them mercilessly. The police even assaulted women with batons, including a woman who was three months pregnant as well as an elderly woman and a child with disabilities. The National Commission for Women (NCW) took cognizance of the issue and demanded an inquiry and initiation of strict legal action against the police officials who assaulted the young pregnant woman after the violence of May 8.
Reports and videos from the spot reveal police brutality – of the police throwing objects, shelling tear gas, breaking parked bikes with their lathis (sticks), some of the police were not even in their uniforms, and one video shows policemen mercilessly beating a Muslim man in the middle of the road.
However, the FIR filed by the police against the 27 accused for the clash said, “A crowd started shouting that the police harass them every day and they need to be taught a lesson” and about 2000 people “ran towards the police and following a criminal conspiracy, started pelting stones, with an intention to kill.” It further said, several policemen were injured and then the police “had to lob a total of 71 tear gas shells”... 
... The cyber police department of Gujarat has been very active, filing cases, arresting offenders and writing to social media service providers to ban the accounts of such offenders.
The Additional Director General of Police CID (Crime), Shamsher Singh encouraged citizens to come forward to report hate campaigns across social media platforms and lodge police complaints, “We have been trying to get as many cases logged in the system as possible…. We have a very active cyber cell in Ahmedabad where most of such crimes generate. It helps more when people bring such issues to our notice. The more they report the better it is.”

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