India softens toward Muslims after Islamophobia outcry

A Muslim man, among 29 people arrested by Indian authorities, walks towards an ambulance before being taken to a prison from a quarantine center in Prayagraj. (Files/AP)
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Updated 29 April 2020

India softens toward Muslims after Islamophobia outcry

  • Growing attacks on Muslims undermine India’s positive image, says analyst

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has called for unity and religious harmony after an international outcry over increasing Islamophobia in the country.

The Muslim outreach attempts began after influential figures in the Arab world objected to the government blaming an event organized by the religious missionary group the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) for “contributing to a 30 percent rise in the coronavirus cases” in India.
On Sunday the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s paternal organization and masthead of Hindu rightwing nationalism, called upon people to “come together and fight the menace of coronavirus jointly.”
“All 130 crore Indians are our family,” said RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. “We are one. We should not blame the entire community for the mistake of a few individuals. People who are more mature in both communities should come forward and start a dialogue to remove prejudices among people’s minds.”
A day earlier Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted Muslims on the start of Ramadan.
“I pray for everyone’s safety, well-being and prosperity,” he tweeted. “May this Holy Month bring with it abundance of kindness, harmony and compassion. May we achieve a decisive victory in the ongoing battle against COVID-19 and create a healthier planet.”
Blaming TJ placed New Delhi’s carefully cultivated relationship with the Middle East under the microscope after the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) strongly disapproved of hate speech by Indian nationals accusing the missionary group of deliberately exacerbating the pandemic.
Princess Hend Al-Qassimi, a member of the UAE royal family, reprimanded an Indian expatriate in Dubai for targeting Muslims and blaming the TJ for the spread of the outbreak.

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Princess Hend Al-Qassimi, a member of the UAE royal family, reprimanded an Indian expatriate in Dubai for targeting Muslims for the spread of the outbreak.

She shared a UAE law which banned hate speech, adding that anyone who was “openly racist and discriminatory” in the UAE would be fined and made to leave.
She further stressed the need “to reject hatred and replace it with love on earth to live together.”
On Friday, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar called his counterparts in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and reassured them about the situation in India.
“Pandemics further highlight the need for international cooperation,” he tweeted after the talks. “Few better examples than our relationship with #UAE. Applaud the generosity of spirit and clarity of policy that has characterised its approach. Thank HH @ABZayed for the warm conversation.”
Analysts said that such strong reactions from the Gulf countries were “causing anxiety” in the government.
“This is the first time in many years that we are witnessing a trenchant reaction coming from the Arab world about the happenings in India,” Sanjay Kapoor, editor of English magazine Hardnews, told Arab News. “It is unusual and is causing anxiety in the government as well amongst all those who do business with the Gulf. Modi has to be wise in how he deals with the Arab world, not just due to the remittances that the workers send, but much of its politics in that region is linked to the support that Saudi provides.”
Prof. Sujata Ashwarya, of New Delhi-based Jamia Milia Islamia University, said that the growing Islamophobia in India undermined the positive image of India in the Muslim world.
“The consequences could be grave,” she told Arab News. “Once you lose your touch, it is difficult to get that back easily. Soft power is the twin of hard power.”


Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”