This corona story is unfolding into newscenes. Starting from a natural calamity it's slipping into some unnaturalterritories. It has entered politics, business, religion, and – to an uglierside of human enterprise we call – propaganda. The scene is getting murkierwith media hounds baring their fangs once again against the Muslim community.We don't deny we don't have a dyed-in-the-wool class of fanatics. Bugs or bombsthey don't fear and they don't care. They float theories too absurd to beconsidered sane. But such breed is present everywhere in equal measure.(Sometimes results are surprisingly greater in favour of the other). Muslimsdon't have a patent on bigotry. We have even an ostensibly secular class ofpeople who outperform all religious fanatics in this race for superiorstupidity. Their thoughts and actions are as crazy as others'. Moulvis and Tableeghisalready stand censured to limits and about them the less the better. But herethe spotlight shifts to another side which is equally infectious (or evenmore). It is about what we call the media machinery. The only differencebetween a corona-defying Moulvi and a truth-suppressing media propagandist isthat of intent. The former does it in good faith and doesn't know theconsequences it can have, but the latter knows each bit of what he is doing andwhat it's going to result in. The former's is a foolishness he disguises asfaith, the latter's is a well-motivated action.
Take the recent Nizamudin incident whichhas become the sole focus for some television channels. Studying the facts inchronological order reveals a different story. But unfortunately this sectionof media is too deaf to listen to any sane argument flowing from anywhere.
There are many angles to the story. First,did these people enter the shrine after the lockdown was announced. If yes, howwas that possible. In an enforced curfew entering a particular place and thattoo in cliques can't be thought of. Second, were they already there at the timewhen the lockdown was announced. If yes, then where could have they gone?Imagine you are in a mosque holed up when the curfew is declared. Where do yougo? The Tableeghi gatherings are a routine affair and wherever they meet theycrowd together. (And that is true of all religious gatherings. Compared to whathappens elsewhere this is the least contagious affair. Recall the world beforeCorona). Now they can't disappear the second lockdown was set in place. Aday-long Sunday curfew was at least announced forty eight hours before, buthere they had just four hours within which everything had to fall in place. Itdoesn't happen even in fast forwardmovie tracks. People from far off places can't reach their respectivedestinations in the intervening night as the next morning no one will beallowed to move. It's not like driving home after a late-night show. They arefar away and they will need time. Besides they can't step out too as the threatof spreading the virus was a genuine concern. Agreed they urged their fellowsto trust God and stay put, but don't miss that even if they don't trust Godthey still had to stay put. Agreed that video clips were spread to fool othersinto believing that corona threat is an `anti-Muslim conspiracy'. Agreed thatat many places even after restrictions people crowded in the mosques and werejustifiably punished. But such cases are to be taken on merit without abusingthe very identity of the people involved. Poverty, illiteracy, lack ofresources, lack of exposure, malnutrition, underdevelopment – these all makegood themes for a sociological study where you don't demonise people of aparticular faith or race or sect but educate them no matter who they are.
Third, presume that these Tableeghi jamatmembers are responsible for what they are being accused of. Is that asufficient ground to demonise an entire faith. There are better occasions toderive political mileage. At least spare the tragedy from becoming a source ofprofit. Projecting mosques and seminaries as breeding grounds of infection is aselective condemnation of a fact which otherwise is general and universal. Thestandard of punishment for violators should be faith neutral. Law shouldn't seemy faith before taking a course against me.
Apply some sense before condemning othersunheard. An instant lockdown brought hundreds and thousands of poor labourerson the roadside. But here it didn't attain a communal colour as the problem waspractical. What options you had to deal with these moneyless, foodless peopledesperate to reach home. Either snuff them out by some magic or gas them orbomb them so that they drop dead where they are or – the last logical andhumanly acceptable option is – give them passage, give them time to reach homeor tell them what to do. They can't just sit down and wait till they die.Corona is a luxury for them, hunger kills faster. The transport that was arranged for themduring the lockdown could have been arranged first before the announcement wasmade. Caging a family or a locality or a residential colony is understandable,but over a billion people can't freeze at a place just on the press of abutton. That demands a calibrated action. In other countries lockdowns weremanaged in a staggered manner.
Now shift to the slums of Mumbai. There areno religious congregations, there is no Tableeghi ijtima. The outbreak case istaken on an administrative level. You don't criminalise the inmates forcrowding together as they have no option. Where you can't unbend your leg in aroom as it hits the other in ribs, there social distancing is a sciencefiction. Sealing the whole area and exploring the options to prevent theoutbreak is a great administrative challenge the Maharashtara government isfacing. But again the method, the procedure and the operation is all rational.It's no debate as to whether the slum-dwellers are Muslims, Hindus orChristians.
Another case. How could a Madiya Pradeshpolitical drama still continue when the corona bugle was already blown. Thefear of being bitten by a corona bug was drowned in the desperation of mountingthe throne. Everything went on till the settlement was done. There the religionwas no issue. Faith figured nowhere. Why does it figure when it concernsMuslims. We know the problems that plague us and we should be unsparing inaddressing them. But it really pains when the whole media resorts to suchcheapness and vulgarity which is even more fatal than the COVID threat. To curethis, there is no anti-virus and there can't be.