Not COVID, but stigma and ostracisation end man’s life in TN

Father-of-two jumps in front of train unable to endure barbaric acts of neighbours in Madurai

Though local media reported the incident, it came to light only after a few days when S Venkatesan, Lok Sabha member representing Madurai, shared it on social media. Representational photo: PTI

Not once, but twice did 32-year-old Mustafa tested negative for COVID-19. Yet, his neighbours in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai weren’t reassured. Panic had struck them, but not conscience. Unable to endure their barbaric acts, Mustafa jumped in front of a train and ended his life on March 31. He is survived by his wife and two children.

A migrant worker, Mustafa had returned from Kerala two weeks before the incident and stayed at his sister’s house. A few days ago, he had fever and stayed indoor. This created panic among his neighbours about COVID-19. They immediately informed the police, who took Mustafa and his mother in a van to Government Rajaji Hospital. Callously, some neighbours had videographed Mustafa’s hospital visit and circulated it on social media.

At the hospital, both tested negative for the coronavirus infection and returned to their house the same night. But the reports could not put the neighbours’ minds at rest. They asked him at midnight to move out of the house. The quarrel ended at 2 am with police intervention. However, it wasn’t the end, as Mustafa believed.

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The very next morning, the neighbours loaded Mustafa into a garbage truck and sent him to the same hospital for a second test. Doctors were surprised to see him again. They tried to convince the neighbours that Mustafa was alright, but in vain. So, the doctors tested him once again and the results were negative. But the distrustful neighbours continued to stigmatise Mustafa, who jumped in front of a goods train the next morning.

Though local media reported the incident, it came to light only after a few days when S Venkatesan, Lok Sabha member representing Madurai, shared it on social media. He told The Federal Mustafa’s death could be the first in the country that had happened due to stigma attached to COVID-19.

The railway track was adjacent to Mustafa’s house, but he was unaware of when a train would arrive. So, he had walked around 18 km along the track to reach Kappalur, where he jumped in front of the train, says Venkatesan. He laments that Mustafa could have been taken to the hospital on an ambulance, instead of a van and a garbage truck.

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“Mustafa’s daughter is in Class 6 and son in Class 4. We have been providing some relief to them,” says Venkatesan, adding that many people have misunderstood social distancing and are ostracising the affected.

Generally, Muslims, being a minority, face a lot of problems. Especially, after the religious congregation in Delhi, the hostility towards the community has increased.

However, some people are still gathering at religious establishments to offer prayers. A video clip — reportedly shot in Tenkasi in Tamil Nadu — that is doing the rounds on social media shows people running helter-skelter. A policeman tells his colleagues not to beat the people, who had allegedly gathered for a prayer, and asks them not to congregate anywhere as lockdown is in effect. The video has also received various comments.

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Many from the community itself had opined that the gathering was unnecessary. One person said the people must obey the government’s order in such a situation and added that it was advised by the Prophet too. Another person said the police should arrest mosque authorities for keeping it open. In Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu, all mosques have been shut, with notices relating to the lockdown pasted.

“Until the lockdown ends, all mosques across the state have been told to remain shut,” says Nellai Mubarak, state president of the Social Democratic Party of India. The incident in Tenkasi is condemnable. We have asked members of our community to offer prayers from their homes, he says, urging the police to refrain from lathi charging.