In UP’s Fight Against Covid-19, One Thing is Common: Discrimination Toward Muslims


In UP’s Fight Against Covid-19, One Thing is Common: Discrimination Toward Muslims

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

The fight against the spread of coronavirus has been under way for over a month, and this period has been characterised by a wave of pointed communal divisiveness under the cover of a pandemic. The authorities, including holders of the highest offices like Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister himself, have had to appeal to the nation to not communalise the spread of the virus by seeking to assign blame to any particular community or group. However, the charged, antagonistic atmosphere has not been dispelled. The latest incident to contribute to the communally charged atmosphere is the decision of the Uttar Pradesh state government to name eight out of the 18 Covid-19 hotspots in Lucknow after mosques.

The decision has attracted criticism from people accusing the BJP government in the state of adding a communal dimension to the virus.

Though the move has caused outrage, the administration has denied that there is any communal angle to naming Covid-19 hotspots after mosques. In a report, a senior government official is quoted as saying, “The positive cases came from those areas and which is why hotspots have been named after them. There is no other motive to it,” when justifying the decision.

However, just this weekend, the UP Chief Minister, Adityanath, had claimed that the members of the Muslim sect Tablighi Jamaat were responsible for the spread of Covid-19 in the state. Statements like these coming from the state’s highest authority hint to an underlying bias against the minority in Uttar Pradesh.

CM Adityanath’s claim blaming the Tablighi Jamaat has not come out of the blue. In April, as the number of positive cases in UP were on the rise, he ordered the construction of temporary jails to detain patients affiliated with the Tablighi Jamaat who tested positive for coronavirus.

This bigoted approach of UP’s highest authorities has had a trickle-down effect. Following in CM Adityanath’s footsteps, many local BJP legislators are also giving voice to statements that threaten communal harmony in the state. There was the case of a BJP MLA from Deoria, Suresh Tiwari, who publicly told people to not buy vegetables from Muslim vendors. The BJP issued a notice to Tiwari after a video of him making the statements went viral, leading to embarrassment, but he was not the only one. Another BJP MLA, Brijbhushan Rajput, was filmed threatening a Muslim vegetable vendor and warning him to stay away from the neighbourhood.

At a time when anti-Muslim sentiments have attracted global criticism of India – from the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation issuing a statement against rising Islamophobia in the country, to a government committee in the US that monitors worldwide religious freedom listing India as a country of particular concern – these developments from UP only worsen that perception. And in the words of PM Modi himself, “COVID-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking. Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood.” Let’s hope the UP government authorities pay some heed to that.