The spread of Corona Virus in India has been on the upswing despite the measures undertaken by the state. In most parts of India the suffering has been immense. The central Government took up the issue of Covid 19, with great amount of delay. From early February WHO started warning the Governments all around about the impending dangers of the pandemic. That time Indian Government was busy in organizing ‘Namaste Trump’ and the ruling party at Centre was busy with the operation Kamal to overthrow the Congress Government in MP. As The Janata Curfew was declared on 22nnd March and total lockdown on 24th March, the issue started being taken up seriously. To shirk the responsibility of the state, it found a very convenient target. The Tabligi Jamaat’s (TJ) seminar (13-15 March) in Markaz Nijamuddin was blamed for the spread of Corona by the Government and then by the media. Definitely some lapses must have occurred in organizing of the seminar at this time, and a large assembly taking place during a pandemic is inexcusable at one level.
At the same time thousands of people had come to India for the event ‘Namaste Trump’. Nearly two lakh people were exposed to this event. The Temples and Mutt congregations were going on. The TJ people had come to India with due permissions and screenings at airports. Despite all this the move to blame them for spreading Corona just exemplified the mind set and political manoeuvre of the Government. Demonising Tablighis was to target the whole Muslim Community of country.
The Godi (Lap) Media (or Communal media) went hysteric in proclaiming that Tablighis were deliberately spreading the disease as per the plan. This is their ‘Corona Jihad’ and they are preparing ‘Corona Bomb’ in Markaz, which is at stone’s throw from the police station of the area! The reach of this section of media is astounding. It got picked up and ‘Muslims are deliberately spreading the disease’ became part of the ‘common social understanding’. The impact on the social life was instant. Muslim truck drivers at places had to run away to escape the mobs. The Muslim vegetable vendors were beaten up at places and not permitted in many housing colonies.
After some of these Tablighis were quarantined and admitted to hospitals, it was a heyday for the fake news makers. What started doing rounds was that these Tablighis are making obscene gestures to nurses, are spitting, and are moving in the wards without clothes. All this gave grist to the mill of Islamophobia, already peaking in India. Police promptly went into action and cases were launched against the Tablighis who had come from abroad. The cases filed were under various clauses related to violation of VISA rules, spreading the epidemic, and also preaching Islam.
In couple of judgments on the issue, the role of media and police has come from scathing criticism. The blatant falsehood of FIR’s and the propaganda of section of Media stand exposed. In its judgement the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High court, the observation of the court are remarkably reflecting of the state of affairs of the attitude of police and media towards Muslims. The High Court clearly stated that the action against Tablighis is an attempt to find the scapegoat for the Covid 19. It observes, “, “A political Government tries to find the scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats. The aforesaid circumstances and the latest figures of infection in India show that such action against present petitioners should not have been taken.” And further critiquing the media, the Court observes, “There was big propaganda in print media and electronic media against the foreigners who had come to Markaz Delhi and an attempt was made to create a picture that these foreigners were responsible for spreading covid-19 virus in India. There was virtually persecution against these foreigners.”
The judgment should go down as a case study of the attitude of state (police) and media towards its religious minorities in the country as those Muslims who came from aboard for seminars or touring the country were harassed to no end. The Court states, “This action indirectly gave warning to Indian Muslims that action in any form and for anything can be taken against Muslims. It was indicated that even for keeping contact with Muslims of other countries, action will be taken against them. Thus, there is smell of malice to the action taken against these foreigners and Muslim for their alleged activities. The circumstances like malice are important consideration when relief is claimed of quashing of F.I.R. and the case itself.”
Incidentally as Covid 19 shows us that those who matter and those who spread information are totally biased and look for scapegoats among Muslims, it also shows that there are some who are treated as Holy Cows. In the recent Delhi violence most of those who have been targeted are those who were active in protests against Government in anti CAA-NRC agitations. Those who gave provocative speeches, Desh Ke Gaddaron ko, (Anurag Thakur), There are rapist amongst those participating in the protests (Parvesh Varma) and ‘We will dislodge them physically (Kapil Mishra), are very much moving around while those who talked of peaceful protests are under the scanner.
Similar attitude was also observed in the series of bomb blasts, which shook the country between 2006-2008. Just one example will suffice, in the aftermath of Makkah Masjid blast (Hyderabad) scores of Muslim youth were arrested right away. They were released again by Court for the lack of any credible evidence. In Malegaon blast case ditto, one of the accused in the blast Pragya Thakur is on bail and has become the law maker. In practice what is ruling is the biased attitude, targeting some for their religion and exonerating others, again for their belonging to a particular religion!
As Covid-19 has created havoc all rounds, the rulers of certain countries are using it to further intensify their set agendas. The democratic freedoms are being curtailed in certain forms, the reaction to which has come in America in the form of a campaign, which is opposing “stifling” cultural climate that is imposing “ideological conformity” and weakening “norms of open debate and toleration of differences”. In India similar intimidations have been intensified. In addition the occasion has been used by the sectarian forces first to link the spread of Corona to Muslim community and now in the name of reducing the burden of curriculum certain chapters on core concepts related to Indian nationalism are being deleted from the text books.
It has been reported that chapters on federalism, citizenship, nationalism, secularism, Human Rights, Legal Aid and Local Self Government and the like are being dropped. Education has been an important area for communal forces and they constantly keep saying that leftists have dominated the curriculum content, it suffers from the impact of Macaulay, Marx and Mohammad and so needs to be Indianized. The first such attempt was done when BJP came to power in 1998 as NDA and had Murli Manohar Joshi as the MHRD minister. He brought the changes which were termed as ‘saffronization of education’. Their focus is more on social science. Some of the highlights of this were introduction of subjects like Astrology and Paurohitya, and chapters defending caste system, nationalism of the type of Hitler was praised.
With defeat of NDA in 2004, the UPA did try to rectify some of these distortions. Again after 2014 the RSS affiliates working in the area of education have been active, interacting with MHRD officials to impress upon them the need to change the curriculum matching with their Hindu nationalist agenda. Its ‘Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas’ has been asking for removal of English, Urdu words in the texts. It has asked for removal of thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore on Nationalism, extracts of autobiography of M F Husain, references to benevolence of Muslim rulers, references to BJP being Hindu party, apology of Dr. Manmohan Singh for anti Sikh pogrom of 1984, the reference to killings of Gujarat carnage in 2002 among others. This they call as Bhartiykaran of syllabus.
As RSS is a multithreaded hydra one of its pracharak Dinanath Batra has set up ‘Shiksha Bachao Abhiyan Samiti’ which has been pressurizing various publishers to drop the books which are not conforming to their ideology. One recalls their pressuring withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus’, as it does present the ancient India through the concerns of dalits and women. Mr. Batra has already come out with a set of nine books for school curriculum, giving the RSS view of the past and RSS understanding of social sciences. These have already been translated into Gujarati and thousands of the sets of these books are being used in Gujarat Schools.
The present step of deleting parts of curriculum which gives the basics of Indian Nationalism, secularism and human rights is a further step in the same direction. These are the topics which have made the Hindu nationalists uncomfortable during last few years. They have been defaming secularism. They removed it from the preamble of Indian constitution, when they put out an ad on the eve of Republic day in 2015. From last few decades since the Ram Temple movement was brought up, simultaneously the secular ethos of India’s freedom movement and secular values of Indian constitution have been constantly criticized. Many an RSS ideologues and BJP leaders have been asking for change of Indian Constitution for this very reason.
Secularism is part of the concept of Indian nationalism. In the name of religious nationalism, sectarian divisive nationalism they have been attacking various student leaders in particular. When we study Nationalism, the very genesis of Indian nationalism tells us the plurality of our freedom movement with its anti colonial roots. The struggle was for Indian nationalism and so the Muslims and Hindu communalists kept aloof from this great struggle against colonial masters, it was this struggle which built the Indian nation with all its diversity.
Similarly as we have equal rights as citizens the chapters on citizenship are being dropped. Federalism has been the core part of India’s administrative and political structure. As the dictatorial tendencies are becoming stronger, federalism is bound to suffer and that explains the dropping of this subject. Democracy is decentralization of power. Power reaching the lowermost part of the system, the villages and average citizens. This got reflected in Local self Government. The power is distributed among villages, cities, state and centre. By removing chapters on federalism and local self government, the indications of the ideology of ruling party are on display.
While we are not dealing with all the portents of the planned omissions, one more aspect that related to dropping of chapter on Human rights needs our attention. The concept of Human rights and dignity are interlinked. This concept of Human rights also has international ramifications. India is signatory to many an UN covenants related to Human rights. The indications are clear that now rights will be for the few elite and ‘duties’ for the large deprived sections will be put on the forefront.
In a way this incidental ‘Corona gifted opportunity’ to the ruling Government is being fully used to enhance the agenda of ruling party in the arena of Educational Curriculum. The part of curriculum with which the ruling party is uncomfortable is being removed. This act of omission does supplement their other acts of commission in changing the shape of educational curriculum, which are reflected in RSS affiliates’ suggestions to MHRD regarding Bhartiyakaran of contents of syllabus. As per this the things like regarding the great epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata as History, the things like India having all the stem cell technology, plastic surgery, aviation science etc. will have a place in the changes planned by communal forces
Noam Chomsky is one of the leading peace workers in the world. In the wake of America’s attack on Vietnam, he brought out his classic formulation, ‘manufacturing consent’. The phrase explains the state manipulating public opinion to have the public approve of it policies—in this case, the attack of the American state on Vietnam, which was then struggling to free itself from French colonial rule.
In India, we are witness to manufactured hate against religious minorities. This hatred serves to enhance polarisation in society, which undermines India’s democracy and Constitution and promotes support for a Hindu nation. Hate is being manufactured through multiple mechanisms. For example, it manifests in violence against religious minorities. Some recent ghastly expressions of this manufactured hate was the massive communal violence witnessed in Mumbai (1992-93), Gujarat (2002), Kandhamal (2008) and Muzaffarnagar (2013). Its other manifestation was in the form of lynching of those accused of having killed a cow or consumed beef. A parallel phenomenon is the brutal flogging, often to death, of Dalits who deal with animal carcasses or leather.
Yet another form of this was seen when Shambhulal Regar, indoctrinated by the propaganda of Hindu nationalists, burned alive Afrazul Khan and shot the video of the heinous act. For his brutality, he was praised by many. Regar was incited into the act by the propaganda around love jihad. Lately, we have the same phenomenon of manufactured hate taking on even more dastardly proportions as youth related to Hindu nationalist organisations have been caught using pistols, while police authorities look on.
Anurag Thakur, a BJP minster in the central government recently incited a crowd in Delhi to complete his chant of what should happen to ‘traitors of the country...” with a “they should be shot”. Just two days later, a youth brought a pistol to the site of a protest at Jamia Millia Islamia university and shouted “take Azaadi!” and fired it. One bullet hit a student of Jamia. This happened on 30 January, the day Nathuram Godse had shot Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. A few days later, another youth fired near the site of protests against the CAA and NRC at Shaheen Bagh. Soon after, he said that in India, “only Hindus will rule”.
What is very obvious is that the shootings by those associated with Hindu nationalist organisations are the culmination of a long campaign of spreading hate against religious minorities in India in general and against Muslims in particular. The present phase is the outcome of a long and sustained hate campaign, the beginning of which lies in nationalism in the name of religion; Muslim nationalism and Hindu nationalism. This sectarian nationalism picked up the communal view of history and the communal historiography which the British introduced in order to pursue their ‘divide and rule’ policy.
In India what became part of “social common sense” was that Muslim kings had destroyed Hindu temples, that Islam was spread by force, and that it is a foreign religion, and so on. Campaigns, such as the one for a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Rama to be built at the site where the Babri masjid once stood, further deepened the idea of a Muslim as a “temple-destroyer”. Aurangzeb, Tipu Sultan and other Muslim kings were tarnished as the ones who spread Islam by force in the subcontinent. The tragic Partition, which was primarily due to British policies, and was well-supported by communal streams too, was entirely attributed to Muslims. The Kashmir conflict, which is the outcome of regional, ethnic and other historical issues, coupled with the American policy of supporting Pakistan’s ambitions of regional hegemony, (which also fostered the birth of Al-Qaeda), was also attributed to the Muslims.
With recurring incidents of communal violence, these falsehoods went on going deeper into the social thinking. Violence itself led to ghettoisation of Muslims and further broke inter-community social bonds. On the one hand, a ghettoised community is cut off from others and on the other hand the victims come to be presented as culprits. The percolation of this hate through word-of-mouth propaganda, media and re-writing of school curricula, had a strong impact on social attitudes towards the minorities.
In the last couple of decades, the process of manufacturing hate has been intensified by social media platforms that are being cleverly used by communal forces. Swati Chaturvedi’s book, I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army, tells us how the BJP used social media to spread hate. The Whatapp University became the source of understanding for large sections of society and hate for the ‘Other’, went up by leaps and bounds. To add on to this process, the phenomenon of fake news was shrewdly deployed to intensify divisiveness.
Currently, the Shaheen Bagh movement is a big uniting force for the country; but it is being demonised as a gathering of ‘anti-nationals’. Another BJP leader has said that these protesters will indulge in crimes like rape. This has intensified the prevalent hate.
While there is a general dominance of hate, the likes of Shambhulal Regar and the Jamia shooter do get taken in by the incitement and act out the violence that is constantly hinted at. The deeper issue involved is the prevalence of hate, misconceptions and biases, which have become the part of social thinking.
These misconceptions are undoing the amity between different religious communities which was built during the freedom movement. They are undoing the fraternity which emerged with the process of India as a nation in the making. The processes which brought these communities together broadly drew from Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar. It is these values which need to be rooted again in the society. Communal forces have resorted to false propaganda against minorities, and that needs to be undone with sincerity.
Combating those foundational misconceptions which create hatred is a massive task which needs to be taken up by social organisations and political parties which have faith in the Indian Constitution and values of the freedom movement. It needs to be done right away as a priority issue in with a focus on cultivating Indian fraternity yet again