A delicate balance
The demonising of an entire community because of the Tablighi Jamaat incident exposes the precariousness of communal harmony in India
This week I added yet another year to my tenure on earth. And as I turned (umm…let's just say) wiser, the surreal tinge to this birthday was not lost on me. The annual blues that I usually feel on this day became a bit more poignant, only momentarily relieved by calls from old friends and a deliciously made pot roast for dinner! India and the world face a herculean task to resist COVID-19 and then plan an economic bounce-back. Even if there was no lockdown in India, the collective misery of the world would have adequately dampened my spirits.
The only positives during these bleak days (when using the broom to clean one's home seems more appealing than finding creative inspiration) have been the stories of hope, fortitude, and togetherness. 'We are in this together' — is the only mantra that helps us share this complete sense of devastation, and often, lack of hope. There is strength in numbers — makes me remember the childhood story of pigeons ensnared in a hunter's net, and their eventual escape when they worked together. Yes, there is strength in numbers, and when our actions are united and focus on overcoming this virus, the results will definitely speak.
Governments and corporates are throwing their weight behind relief and rescue. Companies and entrepreneurs are rising to the occasion. Defence companies are producing ventilators, apparel makers are stitching masks — recalibration is in the air and the need of the hour. Donations have been pouring in from hundreds of citizens. Many individuals in their private capacity have fed migrant labour in Delhi NCR as they trudged in the sun crossing state borders to reach home. Others trooped onto city roads to feed the poor and downtrodden, and caring even for stray animals who found little to eat during the lockdown. I am sure that thousands of others are helping others in their own way — keeping on domestic staff even though they are not working, offering help to senior citizens living alone, helping freelancers and vendors with payments. I have personally seen smaller companies, rather than large conglomerates, going out of their way to be humanitarian and helpful during a crisis like this. You see, this too is a kind of 'circle of life'. If you are financially able and can clear your dues or can help those in need, those individuals will in turn, 'pay it forward'. The pledge to fight this neo war fills us with a sense of joint determination. Are we invincible? Not really; but it does give us courage while we practice physical distancing.
The last few days in India though have punctured this warm, fuzzy feeling of brotherhood. It all started when the religious event organised by Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi's Nizamuddin area in March emerged as the hotspot for COVID-19 infections. It quickly snowballed into a backlash on the entire Muslim community, exposing the delicate state of communal harmony in the country. While some of us had naively believed that the Coronavirus outbreak had broken the onslaught of hateful rhetoric, it rose its ugly head with great alacrity. And before long, there was fake news galore of Muslims licking utensils, sneezing en masse, spitting on food to spread the virus and so on.
With such poisonous, misleading campaigns doing the rounds under the tag of 'Corona Jihad', could instances of purported violence and discrimination be far behind? And yet again the nation found itself in the throes of communal disharmony even at a time like this. Was the religious gathering irresponsible? Yes, absolutely, as much as all the other political and religious gatherings (or even parties) that have been organised in spite of the onslaught of the virus. It was as negligent as allowing thousands of migrant labourers to walk thousands of kilometres home, as reckless as allowing hundreds of migrant workers to congregate at the Anand Vihar Inter-state Bus Terminals in the capital. Who is to say that with these congested gatherings, the labourers did not carry the virus home to their districts and villages?
So, should the accountability only stop with the organisers of the Tablighi Jamaat gathering? Visas had been given to foreign attendees from countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. The Nizamuddin police station shares a wall with the Markaz building; surely, they should have been aware of the gathering. Intelligence department inputs come into play to avoid all kinds of future crises, not just terror-related ones. But this stray incident became the rallying point for Islamophobes who needed an occurrence like this to spew their venom. And what of the functions organised by politicians such as the swearing-in ceremony of Shivraj Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh?
The blame game perhaps can never end but giving this moment of crisis a communal touch can if we try. All of us, across states and religions, have to wise up. The Coronavirus does not look at religion, egalitarian as it is in its infections; stupidity and ignorance, however, are its allies.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal