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By  Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Bureau Chief, Edited by Adam Rizvi, TIO: When our very existence is threatened by a pandemic, one would expect humanism to soar, in a world fraught with violence and uncertainty. And it is surfacing in most parts of the world, as they unite to fight against the COVID 19 menace. But India is battling with a severe epidemic of its own, caused by the communal virus, which is far more dangerous to it’s existence than any other virus can be.

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A dangerously communal game is being played out by the Indian media, which is the largest terror group in the country today, backed completely by the state machinery. A sustained hate campaign which has been on for the last six years against the Muslims, took on an ugly turn during the Delhi riots in February this year, fueling violence which wrecked the lives of thousands of Muslims, only to become a whole lot more aggressive now, with the advent of the corona virus, virulently giving it an Islamic identity.

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A communally charged media, bereft of any breaking news in COVID 19 preparedness, latched on to the members of the international Islamic missionary movement, the Tablighi Jamaat when one of its members died of the virus in Telangana on March 18. This religious organization which happens to be the largest in the world, has since then become the target of the media’s bile. What made matters worse was 100’s of their members turned up positive, with new numbers being added everyday.

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In Delhi alone, on Saturday 128 of the 166 cases, that turned up positive, were linked to the jamaatis. The high spike in numbers could also be because of the high testing in the members of this sect. But the Delhi government also declared the community around the Nizamuddin Markaz as corona free, officially quelling fears of a community spread.

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But the hounding by the various states trying to identify the jamaatis, has resulted in making them either hide in fear, or take extreme steps like killing themselves. So complete is the terror unleashed by the media, that two of the Jamaati’s have committed suicide, one despite testing negative in Himachal Pradesh and the other after testing positive in Maharashtra on Saturday. News of innocents, even those with no connections with the Tablighi, being tortured, are pouring in from around the country. The case of a young man who’s pregnant wife was turned away from a hospital in Rajasthan, only because they were Muslims and who delivered the baby in an ambulance, only to lose it, on the way to Jaipur, is particularly heart wrenching.

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The media which has been hounding the Muslim community on various pretexts from beef eating to being anti-nationals to being rioters, just had a hot topic handed to them on a platter as the numbers of positive cases amongst the Jamaati’s kept jumping. Some also concluding dangerously from fake videos, that not just this sect but the entire Muslim community was responsible for spreading the virus in the country.

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News 18, took an extreme step by stating that it is Pakistan’s agenda to let loose the virus on India through this congregation. In one of the panel discussions, Deepak Chaurasia of News Nation, referred to Musharraf Ali Khan, spokesperson of the Tablighi, as a member of the Taliban, promptly denying it moments later, but not before giving a good peek into his communal mindset.
The issue is even trending on twitter as #coronajihad.

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Things have taken on such a wild and dangerous turn that even the Uttar Pradesh police have started debunking them as misleading news. It is a different matter though that the same UP police has been used to hound the Muslims in their home state, taking orders from an acutely Islamophobic chief minister Yogi Adityanath. One among them, a Superintendent of Police in Azamgarh, Triveni Singh has announced a cash reward of Rs. 5000 for any information of Tablighi Jamaat members in his area. A practice not reserved even for hard core criminals, leave alone innocent, god fearing men owing allegiance to a religious group. This despite the fact that only one case in Azamgarh was identified as positive, and 35 people already quarantined.

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The story so far is that between, March 1-15, a religious congregation, of the Tablighi Jamaat, took place in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markus/masjid, where 2000 plus people lived in close quarters in a single building.
On March 12, Delhi government made requests to its citizens to self isolate and followed it up with an official circular which banned an assembly of 200 people, especially during sporting events, the next day. However, since there was no specific mention of religious events, the congregation went on, along with a couple of temple events around Delhi until March 16.
All hell broke loose, when an Indonesian citizen in Telangana, who was part of this congregation, died on March 18 of the virus.

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By April 6, out of the 4000 cases that tested positive, 1500 were jamaat linked, prompting the health ministry joint secretary Lav Agarwal to say that the doubling rate of the positive cases for India has jumped from 7.4 days to 4.1 days with this congregation alone.
Following a request by the Delhi Minority Commission, that profiling was happening as a result of these statistics, the Delhi government classified the Tablighi cases as Special Operations, on Saturday, instead of Markaz Masjid, in the government’s health bulletin. These “special operations” cases (712) account for two-thirds of the 1,069 Covid-19 cases confirmed in Delhi.

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This was a unfortunate turn of events but a communally hungry media, who seemed tired of reporting on the insipid preparations for tackling the corona virus pandemic, not really much as far as the center was concerned, simply went ballistic with this. The social media too kept throwing up a series of fake videos, in an organized manner, to show that the Muslim community was on a mission to spread the virus in the country, prompting the Maharashtra government to file as many as 132 cases against them.

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The chief minister of Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray won a lot of applause this week when he warned strict action some well known media anchors. After showing a tough stance, with the Maharashtra police poised to lodge an FIR against India TV’s Rajat Sharma, Zee News editor Sudhir Chaudhary , Anjana Om Kashyap of AajTak, ABP news anchors Rubika Liyaquat, Romana Khan and News Nation anchor Deepak Chaurasia for “promoting enmity between different groups”, they went disappointingly silent on it, soon after.

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Both the media and social media bro out in a rash of fake news and fake videos, with even top leaders of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) like General V K Singh, sharing it and quoting it in media interviews. As a result, fact checkers like Alt News had a busy time busting them. They have debunked at least 8-10 videos which have gone viral in just the last fortnight or so, including the one of a Muslim vendor, applying saliva on his fingers and touching the fruits on his cart and two Muslim boys licking the food off their plates following an extreme religious custom, which are old and unrelated, but were dug up to show that they were on a mission to spread the virus.

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Just like an individual reveals his true character in times of a crisis, in the same way, a country too reveals its true character in times of a crisis. And right now, India is showing its fast emerging communal face to the world, so much so that even the World Health Organization (WHO) director Dr. Michael J Ryan commented that “This does not help. Having COVID 19 is not anybody’s fault. Every case is a victim. Please don’t profile the cases on the basis of racial, religious and ethnic lines”.

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The attack on the jamaat has become so acute, that a religious organization, the Jamaat Ulema-e-Hind have been forced to appeal in the supreme court that cases related to the Jamaat should be investigated by the CBI, pointing out that an unfortunate incident is being used to demonize an entire community. The appeal asks that fake news used to demonize should be halted immediately, TV channels should be acted against and the communalism that is being spread through the country should be stopped.
In this communal witch hunt against the jamaatis, few key questions that went amiss was:

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1) Why did the police not stop the congregation from assembling in Delhi, when it was stopped in other states like Maharashtra, when the corona fear was already a reality in March?
2) Why is COVID 19 testing so low in the country and why is it focused on a specific section only?
3) Doctors have been complaining of lack of PPE’s for their protection, taking to social media to highlight their plight. Why is the government not questioned about it?
4) There were several members of the Jamaat from a hot spot like Malaysia. How were they allowed in the country?
5) When the whole world was alerted in January itself, why were they not identified and screened at the airport itself?

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A poor country like India, which spends 15 % of its GDP on defense, and only 1.28% of the GDP on health care, India seems to be sitting on a ticking time bomb and hence communal issues need to be kept alive to distract.
Cases in India have not really jumped. In a country like India with a population of 1.3 billion, the figures at 7529 cases with 242 deaths are totally negligible. However, the fear is that the lack of testing with only 133 tests per million, could be the reason, instead of some extraordinary management of the cases, especially by the center. As a result of which, the lockdown which has been in effect in the country since March 25 to April 14, has now been extended till April 30.

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Meanwhile the prime minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the communal violence and the COVID 19 crisis, except to issue dictates to the population, whether it is to bang thalis (plates) to applaud the medical community, but not preparing these front liners from the pandemic, or lighting lamps to scare away the virus, is not only galling, but scary as well.
In a country which does not even spare its doctors and nurses, a sustained campaign accusing the Muslims of spreading the virus in their communities, is severely endangering them.

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A health advisory released on April 8, stated not to discriminate against doctors and nurses and in the end also stated no discrimination against any community or locality. The advisory even asks that the identity of those in quarantine not be revealed. But the advisory lacks teeth, with no action listed against the culprits. Released after extensive damage had already been done, it was a case of too little too late.

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Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar is the regional Bureau Chief of the USA based News Portal, "www.TheIndiaObserver.Com". She has been a fearless journalist for over two decades and has worked in several publications in Mumbai, India. She has worked for The Pioneer, The Daily, Afternoon Despatch, and Courier, Free Press Group, Life Positive, freelanced for The Federal, The Week, Midday, Deccan Herald, Herald-Citizen (USA), South Asian Times (USA). She is a broadcaster, commentator, interviewer besides being an investigative journalist. She has covered several beats, including politics, civic affairs, law, public health, crime, sports, environment. She has also been an assistant producer for a documentary film commissioned by PBS, on Methamphetamine addiction in Tennessee, called Crank: Darkness on the edge of town. She has also been a guest faculty teaching journalism at the School of Broadcasting, Mumbai.

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