New Delhi accused of ‘hate-mongering’ over virus

NEW DELHI: Muslim groups and political analysts have accused the Indian government of double standards after a Hindu temple in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh said over 700 of its members had tested positive for coronavirus.

The accusation follows claims that the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), a Muslim missionary group, were “super spreaders” after a New Delhi gathering in March.

“Our political class has accepted the hegemony of Hindu majoritarianism uncritically, and that has been the guiding principle in dealing with this health crisis. Taking an anti-Muslim stance characterizes the new normal,” said Hilal Ahmad of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a New Delhi-based think tank.

The Lord Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati said on Sunday that three people had died from the disease, including a head priest.

“Of the 743 infected, about 402 people have recovered, while
338 people are undergoing treatment in care facilities,” said Anil Kumar Singhal, the temple’s executive officer.

The temple reopened after months of lockdown on June 11 following “requests from devotees,” he added, while entry was monitored through “strict measures.”

However, despite the prominent temple becoming a disease hotspot, there has been no public uproar, as was the case when the TJ was accused of spreading the disease earlier this year.

At the time, the government had evacuated over 2,300 people and placed 1,800 in quarantine. Media reports said more than 25,000 people who had come in contact with the missionary group had been quarantined across India.

The government alleges that the TJ hosted gatherings of thousands of people from across India and abroad despite the coronavirus threat.

However, some believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is being “divisive” in its approach.

“Coronavirus in India is being used by hate-mongers to divide people in the name of religion,” said Shahid Ali, a TJ lawyer.

He added that when coronavirus cases were detected among the TJ group, both the media and a section of the ruling class “began propagating hate against Muslims.”

“As a result, common people started sidelining and threatening Muslims. Now, when there are so many coronavirus cases in Hindu places of worship, the media is silent. Coronavirus does not have a religion, but India gave coronavirus a religion,” he said.

However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the comparison is misplaced and maintained its stance that the TJ was the “perpetrator” of the virus, while the Hindus in Tirupati are “victims.”

“When the TJ incident happened, there were very few coronavirus cases. The TJ demonstrated they were deviants violating lockdown. They intentionally kept everything under wraps,” said BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma.

“We should stop politicizing the health issue,” he added.

“Coronavirus cases in India have reached 2 million, and those in temples or other places of worship are victims, not perpetrators. We should stop politicizing issues of health. These decisions, like any other decisions of government, are not taken on communal lines.”

However, some have disagreed and accused the authorities of being “anti-science” and stigmatizing Muslims.

“The government is anti-science and should have learned a lesson from the TJ incident and stopped religious gatherings. But now we know that the government and media were working with a particular agenda – they just wanted to victimize Muslims,” said Harjit Singh Bhatti, president of the New Delhi-based Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum.

Bhatti raised the issue of a recent religious event in the city of Ayodhya, where the Indian prime minister launched the construction on a Hindu temple, in “a total disregard for anti-virus measures and protocols.”

He added: “If he does not follow norms, then how can he dare question others? Modi is a prisoner of his own politics.”

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