The Corona Pandemic and the religious epidemic in India
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. - Karl Marx (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)
The Covid-19 virus or the novel corona virus has not only signaled a worldwide health disaster but has also brought with it a lugubrious face in the already declining economic structure of India. Supplemented with the fact of India having the worst unemployment rate in the last 45 years, the CMIE has recorded a soaring rate of unemployment to 27.11% amidst the lockdown period. This is even higher than the rate of unemployment during the Great Depression of U.S.A in the 1930's. These worsening economic conditions have also increased the banal acts of religious groups like the Hindu Mahasabha, bludgeoning the spirit of harmony and scientific temper which should prevail at this hour. Recent examples can be sighted where dozens of Hindu activists led by Chakrapani Maharaj held a gaumutra party in Delhi on March 14th, believing it would protect them from the virus. They did not stop there but went on to theorize the corona virus by saying that it isn't actually a virus but rather a demon that is attacking those who eat animals while claims have also been made by the same group that the virus is an avatar of Lord Narasimbha who has come to question the Chinese food habits and hence the Chinese President Xi Jin Ping should make an idol to rid this menace. Bjp MLA from Guwahati, Suman Haripriya in the same vein had said that using products with cow dung can heal people from the corona virus. The Central Government of India must take note of such situations and abiding by the spirit of scientific temper as mentioned in Article 51 (h) of the Indian Constitution, must declare such nincompoopish acts as mere quackery and mark them as acts of misdemeanor during this period of crisis.
Situations of insecurity especially life-threatening ones, increase the tendency towards a belief in the supernatural. The history of religion is in fact the history of the primitive human mind using his rational sense of inquiry over things he couldn't understand and fear. Hence ancient Gods are often attributed to nature. There were Gods of thunder, rain, wind, fire and everything that existed around him. Today that ancient rationality however poses a threat to mankind's existence as with religion comes superstition and with superstition is born the divisive tendency of religion and in a multicultural and pluralistic democracy like India where we have a coexistence of people belonging to many faiths and ethnicities, religious tomfoolery as mentioned in the above examples can cause a threat to our socio-cultural attitude. Spurts of the outbreak of this religious epidemic can be seen as people have targeted over thousands of Tablighi Jamaat members as corona bombs and corona jihadis. Abdul Rashid who is a shopkeeper in Meerut says that Islamophobia in India is at an all-time high. In an interview with DW News, Mr. Rashid talks about how people exclaim "corona has arrived" after seeing Muslims. Muhammad Idris, a fruit seller also notes how he is being asked to leave by people and even the police in Hindu neighborhoods, thereby harping on the issue of alienation and vilification which is being faced by some Indian citizens just on the basis of their religion which is a direct violation of the right to religious freedom. BJP leader Vineet Agarwal Sharda said "India should have been free of Corona Virus by now but these Jamaat members are like suicide bombers. These suicide bombers should face the strictest possible legal actions. They should be punished in a way that generations to follow will be too afraid to commit such crimes."
The buck does not stop here as cases of racism have also spurred in the recent past with respect to North East Indians who have reportedly been victims of denigrating remarks from fellow citizens from the mainland. On 25th March, 2020, a woman from Manipur was spat on by a man in Delhi. Previously North Eastern people have often been targeted by the mainlanders who verbally use words like 'chinkis' and 'momos' as points of reference. Ever since Donald Trump has called the Corona virus as the Chinese virus, such incidents where North Eastern people have been otherized have increased. This is also unscientific as viruses have existed for millions of years even before human civilization and hence viruses do not have a nationality. During such precariously perilous times, Indians must co-operate with each other and act in the spirit of science rather than indulge in malicious activities such as racism and Islamophobia. Medical Science and Progressive technologies will enable us to create a mind without fear and come out of this situation with our head held high.
Dibyajit Mukherjee Assistant Professor- English Literature Prabhat Kumar College, Contai Vidyasagar University