’Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world
Trump is trumped, Johnson is jolted, and Macron is mortified. The coronavirus has caught all leaders unawares and has ripped through institutions, societies and systems alike. India and Pakistan like every other country are doing everything they can to keep this lethal virus at bay. However, unlike in other countries where people seem to be united against this “invisible enemy”, India and Pakistan retain the dubious distinction of being communal and sectarian-minded countries, even when human existence itself is in danger. Vilification and denigration campaigns have overshadowed what should have been a collective fight against this common enemy.
India: Tableeghis and Transmission
India has once again marked its communal fault lines. There can be no two opinions about the fact that Tableeghi Jamaat members acted irresponsibly and foolishly by organising a congregation from March 13-15, given the imminent threat from Covid-19. Inadvertently, hundreds of them returned to their homes infected by the pathogen, creating a transmission chain that appears to be the single largest for coronavirus in India since its outbreak. The Tableeghi’s blind obsession with the hereafter and debilitating ignorance of the real world are shocking but not unique.
Blind Faith: A Shared Trait
Let’s remember there is nothing exclusively Islamic about combining ignorance and folly; if anything, this is a shared trait across religions. Bishop Zachariah Mar Nicholovos, who heads the Northeast American diocese of the Orthodox Church, posted on Facebook on March13: “If you feel Holy Qurbana can transmit something other than healing, maybe you should re-examine your faith!” This is the height of ignorance of an educated, English-speaking bishop who hilariously in his next Facebook post on March 28 disclosed that he had contracted the virus and has quarantined himself.
Noted Shi’ite Islamic scholar Hadi Al-Modarresi avowed that the coronavirus was an “act of Allah” and “Divine Punishment against the Chinese” for their mistreatment of Muslims. Surprising it may seem, but true it is that Hadi Modarresi himself tested positive for the “Chinese Virus.”
Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and a self-proclaimed priest, on March 1 at an event in Uttarakhand suggested, “If a person overcomes mental problems, then he/she will not suffer from blood pressure, heart attack, kidney failure, liver dysfunction or even coronavirus. He will be able to keep himself fit and healthy.” Probably, Yogi was referring to Yoga being the panacea for coronavirus as well.
A day after our PM appeared on TV and called for “all religious congregations to end”, Yogi himself led a religious event at Ayodhya with hundreds of his adherents, throwing the PM’s advice to the winds. He also used the opportunity to oversee preparations for the Ram Navami celebrations that were to take place in Ayodhya from 25th March, where lakhs would have gathered!
Bishops in Kerala, too, were busy proselytising and presiding over masses seeking solace from God, unheeding the advisories to avoid large gatherings.
Several other pilgrimage centres remained open, well after Covid-19 had become a global pandemic.
Vilification of Muslims in India
The unfortunate part of this whole saga is that the onus of spreading the virus in the entire country was solely attributed to Tableeghi Jamaat members and others were absolved of their misdemeanours. A petition was filed in the Supreme Court for banning the Jamaat while the Enforcement Directorate lodged a money-laundering case against Maulana Saad Kandhlawi, the Jamaat chief. An intense wave of vilification swept through the TV channels and social media. The Muslim community was accused of waging a “Corona Jihad”. A campaign began for social ostracism, economic boycott, and open expression of hate towards Muslims.
Pakistan: Sectarianism and Stigmatisation
Not unlike India, Pakistan showed its true colours during the pandemic of being a majoritarian country. Just as members of a minority group were targeted and given a good bashing in India, the Shias in Pakistan were accused of what some people called the “Shia Virus” and then punished for it. The Shias had been to Iran, a hotspot of coronavirus, for annual pilgrimage. Initially, sectarian hatred remained confined to social media but gradually it revived banned sectarian groups hitherto suppressed by state authorities. Once again madrassas and mosques became a breeding ground for reigniting the discourse of sectarian strife.
Lessons to Learn from Other Countries
The US, the UK, France, Italy, and Spain are amongst the worst sufferers of this pandemic. The very Prime Minister of the UK was punt into ICU, leaving the nation to be deputised by its Foreign Secretary, Dominic Rennie Raab. Despite suffering immensely from this pandemic, these countries have shown extreme maturity and sagaciousness. Unlike India or Pakistan, no communal sledging was witnessed and no community targeted. It is surprising that almost all these countries are led by leaders who have rightist leanings. A mere statement from these leaders which politicised the pandemic would have distracted people from the job on hand. Instead, every citizen irrespective of racial or religious predilection is considering it their national duty to combat the virus which, too, knows no discrimination.
India and Pakistan, on the other hand, fell to the same vicissitudes as have marked their history. At critical junctures and testing times, one community is made to libel against the other, probably at the behest of egoistic leaders (both political as well as religious) who try to reap personal benefits out of these crises. The motto is forgotten, the motives become important. Amid immense poverty and illiteracy, religious bigotry and blinding obedience to leaders, questions are never raised and ultimately communal and sectarian conflicts colour the mood of the nation.
It is imperative that leaders instead of fanning the flame and playing petty politics direct all their energies towards combating this pathogen. Politics can wait but the pandemic will not. People should also realize that inscrutable faith and unflinching devotion to ignorant religious/ political leaders at the cost of human health will rob us of faith itself. The sooner we realise this, the wiser it will be!
The writer is a research scholar at AMU. firstname.lastname@example.org