Coronavirus or communal virus, what is worse? Both are equally dangerous. At least the former is not discriminatory. As the world battles COVID-19, India, along with the pandemic, has another virus to handle, too.
After New Delhi’s Nizamuddin became the COVID-19 hotspot following a religious congregation held between March 1 and 15, the coronavirus positive cases in the country have shot up.
Out of 2,000 people who participated in the Jamaat conference, over 1000 were traced back to Tamil Nadu. As on April 5, of the total 571 positive cases in the state, 522 of them were part of Nizamuddin conference.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami is repeatedly asking people not to communalise the pandemic. Despite this, the ostracisation of the minority community does not seem to stop.
“This has been a good opportunity for Muslim haters. People are thinking that we are purposely spreading the disease and that we switched off our phones intentionally. It was because most of them were from the rural areas where the network was poor and few had changed the number some time ago,” said one of the family members of a patient in Vellore district, who attended the Nizamuddin conference.
Soon after the State Government found that several had attended the Jamaat meeting but failed to trace all of them, it appealed to the people to come forward if they had attended the congregation.
That is when it all started.
Noorul, a Muslim resident of Katpadi in Vellore district, was harassed in his neighbourhood even though he did not attend the conference. “They did not even ask me whether I had been to Delhi or not. People threw stones at me and one among them took a rod and started to him me. Police has to intervene later” he says.
Not just districts like Vellore, the communalisation of the pandemic exists even in the remote villages in Tamil Nadu. Roads leading to the streets where Muslims are densely populated are being blocked.
Communal fights are new to Athirampatti village in Tiruvarur district. “Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the people in the neighbouring villages were not involved in any communal fights. But now, things are changed,” says Mohammed Kani, a resident of the village.
So far, twelve COVID-19 positive cases have been reported in Tiruvarur district.
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Kani says that streets and main roads leading to our village were blocked even before the health department officials traced a person with travel history to Delhi.
“As a result, nurses, natives of neighbouring villages, working in a primary hospital in our village are hesitant to come. Now, on most days, it is short staffed. So, health department officials are bringing nurses from other primary hospitals in the locality,” he adds.
Jinna, another resident of the village who fears ostracism said, “Eventually, the virus may die, but the communal hatred may not”.
Muslims vs Muslims
In Nilgiris, the minority community feels that they are being shamed in their own community.
“It is not just the Hindus who have fallen for the hate campaign. Few of us who went to Delhi came on March 24. Ever since, there has been a complete lockdown and we are in home quarantine. But, people in our own community are avoiding us,” says a 48-year-old relative of COVID-19 patient admitted at ESIC hospital in Coimbatore.
‘Coronavirus is better than communal riot’
While people in all the cities are battling the virus and the communal hatred together, people in Coimbatore feel that the COVID-19 have saved the people from the escalating communal tension in the wake of the Shaheen Bagh-model protest.
“We did not want to end the Shaheen Bagh-model protest against the amended Citizenship Act (CAA). After a while, the communal tension triggered around the protest became a matter of concern. We started to feel that it would lead to a 1990s-like riot situation. We feel COVID-19 is better than a communal riot, which might have taken hundreds of lives and devastate the lives of thousand people,” says 38-year-old Sapna from Karumbukadai in Coimbatore district.
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