Sajad Dar and Mehraj Wani
It was only when a Lok Sabha MP, Dushyant Singh, suspected to be a Covid-19 carrier visited Parliament that the authorities took matters seriously. Still, the crisis didn’t receive the serious attention it required from the government, until March 21 when the Prime Minister asked for a Janta Curfew to be observed. As the positive cases mounted with each passing day, India was left with no option but to go for a complete lockdown for a period of 21 days.
Besides other things, Covid-19 has exposed the healthcare system of India. In the town of Handwara, to which we belong and which is regarded as one of the best towns of Kashmir valley in terms of education and healthcare, the district hospital possesses only two ventilators – for a population of 8.7 lakh (2011 Census). The Indian media (with some exceptions) and many Indians who are best called hooligans were looking for an easy scapegoat to bail out the incompetent government on the issue of Covid-19. In the Tableeghi Jamaat (Maulana Saad’s group), they have found the perfect party towards which the entire blame and attention can be shifted.
On March 16, the day when a ban on religious gatherings in the national capital was announced, a group of 10 Indonesians were rushed into isolation in faraway Hyderabad after one of them showed symptoms of Covid-19. The 10 men had attended the Tableeghi gathering in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area on March 8-10 before they travelled south. By March 18, eight of those 10 Indonesians had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. On March 21, two Thai nationals in Tamil Nadu were also tested positive. They were also traced back to the Tableeghi event in Nizamuddin. Even after such clear trajectory of the cases at hand, the Delhi administration did not take any action to vacate the premises of the markaz in Nizamuddin where the Tableeghi event was held.
We should make it clear that we are not here to defend the Saad group of Tableeghi Jamaat. We do maintain that this group ought to have behaved more responsibly. Saad sahib had time and again been advised to cancel all the upcoming meetings but he remained adamant. It’s noteworthy to mention that the other faction of the Tableeghi Jamaat popularly known as Shaura group, had cancelled all its meetings in the month of February, if media reports are to be believed. However, what we are concerned about is the vehement “otherisation” of Muslims on the pretext of the Tableeghi event.
It’s indeed pathetic to blame a particular religious organisation for the spread of coronavirus. As Professor Mohammad Sajjad in his recent article on the website News Click wrote, “The Supreme Court, high courts, several temples, gurdwaras and mosques functioned normally despite the Delhi government’s directive/advisory against these. Some 200 people were evacuated from the Majnu Ka Tila Gurudwara in Delhi just a day after the TJ (Tableeghi Jamaat) fiasco. The TJ is part of the very same society as all these other organisations.” A man was almost beaten to Death in Delhi’s Bawana area after he returned from a Tableeghi event in Bhopal. The victim was identified by the Delhi Police as 22-year-old Mehboob Ali.
Adequate measures have not been taken to ensure that the spread of the pandemic is contained. While in many countries testing is done without charging any fee, here in Kashmir it costs Rs 4500. This is one of the reasons why many people who can’t afford to pay this sum conceal their travel histories. Our friends who had been quarantined in Kathua for 14 days shared unpleasant details, even though the district’s SSP, Shailendra Mishra, made tireless efforts to ensure better facilities. The quarantine centres of the government are not spacious and a number of people with travel histories to different places are asked to stay bunched together. The food provided is not hygienic either. Such was not the case even during British colonial times. We are told by historians that officials were appointed at village level to report cases of infection during times of epidemic. Suhail ur Rehman writing in The Wire has mentioned: “Village officials were made responsible for providing food and other necessities to the quarantined victims. Interestingly, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir instituted a policy wherein those who reported cases of arrival of infected persons into his territory would be monetarily rewarded and those concealing the cases would be punished.”
Having said this, the entire blame ought not to be put on the government. Many departments like Health and Police are working day in and day out to get us out of this pandemic. It is Kashmir as a society that has failed to respond suitably; we are not behaving and acting like responsible citizens. Just a few days back, a positive case was reported from Muqaam Shah Wali area of Drugmulla in Kupwara district. The person had a travel history and was quarantined for some days before he managed to run away. He had concealed his travel history and by the time he was tested positive he had interacted with several villagers besides his family. Now the entire village has been declared as a red zone and two persons from his own family have tested positive.
Another concern is the attitude and sheer ignorance with which some of our people, despite repeated appeals by the administration, are attending congregations in large numbers. These repeated appeals seem to be falling on deaf ears.
It is an ugly facet of our society that we have a knack of making money out of the miseries of the people. The day the ‘Janata Curfew’ was announced, shopkeepers started to hoard commodities in order to sell them at a higher price in the near future. Not only this, when we were travelling from Jammu to Srinagar on the day of the Janata Curfew, our drivers charged us Rs 2500 per passenger. From Srinagar to Handwara if one travels by cab the highest one has to pay is Rs 150, but we were asked to pay Rs 700 per person. This holds a mirror to our social responsibility and civic sense. Instead of lending a helping hand in these testing times, the hand is being used to grab as much as it can.
The only positive that has come out of this pandemic is that the quality of our environment has improved. But wrath upon us, even that cannot be said about Kashmir. We are even now hell bent on cutting down poplar trees. Even when we are caught in this crisis, we have to make sure that we do not lose our valuable trees.
Sajad Dar is Junior Research Fellow (ICHR) at CAS History, AMU. Mehraj Wani works with J&K Govt.