Locked down India sees surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric, attacks

Doctors and nursing staff test a four way multiplexer machine, which splits oxygen supply from a single ventilator to four patients through inspiratory limbs. (AFP)
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Updated 21 April 2020

Locked down India sees surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric, attacks

  • The media-driven, anti-Muslim public rhetoric will further demonize Muslims and could lead to a major crisis
  • Modi appeals for ‘unity and brotherhood’ on Twitter

NEW DELHI: Breaking his silence on the growing trend of Islamophobia in the country, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter on Sunday to urge for “unity and brotherhood,” insisting that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) did not attack people based on “race or religion.”

“Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together. We are together facing a common challenge. The future will be about togetherness and resilience,” Modi added.
The premier’s statement follows a surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric after officials alleged a gathering of the Delhi-based Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), an Islamic missionary group, might have led to a rise in COVID-19 cases in early March.
“Out of the 14,378 positive COVID-19 cases countrywide, 4,291 of them were linked to the congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area,” Lav Agarawal, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said on Sunday during a regular press briefing.
The statement was met with much criticism from several quarters, with Harjit Singh Bhati, president of the Delhi-based NGO Progressive Medicos and Scientific Forum, objecting to the “singling out of the Tablighi.”
“When the government starts singling out a particular group for the spread of the virus, this creates an anti-Muslim mindset among people. The surge in anti-Muslim attacks in India cannot be divorced from such messaging from the government,” Bhati told Arab News.
The stigmatization of the TJ is one of several examples of the growing marginalization and abuse facing Muslims.
A recent example is that of the Valentis Cancer Hospital in Meerut, 100 km west of Delhi, which published an announcement in newspapers on Friday saying that “any Muslim (patient) or his attendant who wishes to enter the hospital for treatment must produce a COVID-19 negative certificate.”
The announcement blamed the TJ for the “unprecedented” spike in COVID-19 cases. A day later, after heated criticism, the hospital was forced to issue an apology.
“The announcement was not meant to hurt anyone’s religious feelings. It was an attempt to ensure everyone’s safety, including that of Muslims,” Dr. Amit Jain, a member of the managing committee of the hospital, told media after a police case was filed against the hospital.
The incident follows closely on the heels of another one on Sunday wherein a Muslim woman from the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand alleged that she had suffered a miscarriage after she was denied entry into a local hospital in Jamshedpur.
Rizwana Khatun, 30, had rushed to the hospital after she began bleeding. Instead of being admitted, however, she was asked to “clean up her own blood” and was physically assaulted.
“I was beaten with slippers by the hospital staff, who accused me of spreading the virus. I was in intense pain, and I was immediately rushed to a private hospital where the doctors said that the child was dead,” Khatun said in a letter to the state chief minister.
Bhati said that the reports were “very disheartening thing to hear.”
“Medical students are taught to dedicate themselves to the service of humanity. The higher authorities allowed the environment to deteriorate this way,” he said.
Analysts reason that the increasing polarization was long in the making.
“The growing polarization has certainly affected everyday life in Muslim communities in India. The media-driven, anti-Muslim public rhetoric will further demonize Muslims and could lead to a major crisis,” Dr. Hilal Ahmad of the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for the Study of Developing Societies told Arab News.
Dr Apoorva Anand of Delhi University agreed.
“India has become a proper majoritarian state. What we have been seeing is a failure of the international community and of Indian institutions, including the supreme court, parliament and media. Under the pretense of fighting the virus, police in Delhi are arresting Muslim activists who protested against the discriminatory citizenship law a few months ago,” he added.


Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

Updated 12 July 2020

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

  • Exercise being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers turned up over the weekend to vote in an unofficial two-day primary election held by the city’s pro-democracy camp as it gears up to field candidates for an upcoming legislative poll.
The exercise is being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory in a move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability.
Throngs of people lined up at polling booths in the summer heat to cast their vote despite a warning by Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Eric Tsang last week that the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law, because it outlaws interference and disruption of duties by the local government.
Organizers have dismissed the comments, saying they just want to hold the government accountable by gaining a majority in the legislature.
The legislation prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order Internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
On Friday, police raided the office of the Public Opinion Research Institute, a co-organizer of the primary elections. The computer system was suspected of being hacked, causing a data leak, police said in a statement, and an investigation is ongoing.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes multiple parties, is attempting to join forces and use the primaries as a guide to field the best candidates in the official legislative election in September. Its goal is to win a majority in the legislature, which is typically skewed toward the pro-Beijing camp.
To hold the primary elections, pro-democracy activists had raised money via crowd funding. They pledged to veto the government’s budget if they clinch a majority in the legislature. Under the Basic Law, under which Hong Kong is governed, city leader Carrie Lam must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice.
On Saturday alone, nearly 230,000 people voted at polling booths set up across the city, exceeding organizers’ estimates of a 170,000 turnout over the weekend.