Viral fake videos are proving deadlier and pose a greater threat to India’s 200 million Muslims (11 percent of the world’s Muslim population) than the COVID-19 virus itself, with the Narendra Modi government playing a willing hand in stoking communal polarization to further its Hindu nationalist agenda in a time of national crisis.
From the government’s perspective, the novel coronavirus has done what it had failed to achieve in the months since December 2019 – in crushing nationwide protests against its anti-Muslim citizenship laws, otherwise known as the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). Much to the government’s chagrin, the protests had united secular Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Dalits against the ruling party’s brazen effort to transform the country’s secular democracy into a tyrannical Hindu theocracy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided another raison d’être for India’s militant Hindu nationalists to abuse Muslims.
For Muslims, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated what the recent anti-Muslim pogrom in New Delhi started, and provided yet another raison d’être for the country’s militant Hindu nationalists to abuse and denigrate them. It started when 10 Indonesian nationals, all of whom Muslim, tested positive for the virus on March 19, roughly 10 days after attending an annual gathering held by Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary group, in Nizamuddin.
Hindu nationalist groups and individuals aligned with the government seized on the group’s meeting to falsely hold Muslims solely responsible for spreading the deadly virus throughout the country, the hashtags #CoronaJihad and #BioJihad were shared almost instantly across social media platforms hundreds of thousands of times.
“Islamophobia has been transposed onto the coronavirus issue,” Amir Ali, an assistant professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, told Time.
Blaming Muslims for the COVID-19 pandemic has become a deadly sport.
Blaming Muslims for the COVID-19 pandemic has become a deadly sport, with one fake news story and mischievously doctored video after another going viral across Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and WhatsApp, despite being easily and quickly debunked by online fact checking groups.
A sample of the most widely shared fake news story include:
“Muslim Man Spitting on Fruits to Spread Corona,” “Muslims Denying Hindus Rations in Karachi,” “Muslim Worker in Restaurant Spitting in Food to Spread Coronavirus,” “Muslim Foreign Nationals with Coronavirus Hiding in Patna Mosque,” “Muslims Sneezing in Unison to Spread Corona,” “Muslim Spits on Policeman to Spread Coronavirus,” “Muslims Licking Utensils to Spread Corona,” and “Corona Infected Muslim Beats Hindu Priest.”
All together, these fake stories have been shared millions of times, and are delivering exactly what they were intended to do: inciting violence and discrimination against Muslims in hope of encouraging a Muslim exodus, which amounts to a slow-motion form of ethnic cleansing.
On April 5, two mosques in Belagavi, Karnataka were attacked by a combined mob of 22 Hindu extremists.
On April 5, two mosques in Belagavi, Karnataka were attacked by a combined mob of 22 Hindu extremists. On Monday, three Muslim fishermen in the village of Bagalakote were assaulted by a mob, which accused them of spreading the coronavirus. Video shows the men pleading with their attackers for mercy before being hit with wooden sticks and rods, as one of the mob shouts, “You people [Muslims] are spreading the disease. Why are you coming to our village? Do you know how many have died?”
In Bangalore, three Muslim humanitarian aid workers were assaulted while delivering food to the needy after being falsely accused of having links with the Muslim missionary group in Nizamuddin. In Arunachal, Muslim truck drivers were viciously beaten up by a group of Hindu extremists. Last week, a video emerged of a police officer attacking a Muslim pedestrian in the street, while yelling, “You [expletive]. Because of you people [Muslims], coronavirus is spreading in this country.”
These are merely a small sample of the kind of attacks that are being targeted at India’s largest religious minority by militant Hindu nationalists. These assaults are as vicious as they are frequent. Indeed they enjoy the tacit, and often implicit approval of the current Indian government. This is evident in the way dozens of New Delhi police officers were active participants in February’s riots, which left more than 50 Muslims dead, many of whom were lynched in broad daylight and in full view of CCTV cameras.
Members of India’s ruling party refering to Muslims as “traitors” and “pests” that “should be shot,” institutionalizes Islamophobia.
When members of the country’s ruling party publicly refer to Muslim as “traitors” and “pests” that “should be shot,” it institutionalizes Islamophobia at all levels of civil society, resulting in lower economic, education, political, and health outcomes for 200 million adherents of the Islamic faith.
“It is unfortunate that during this global crisis, when we should be putting all hate aside, my country and its leaders force me to focus on prejudice yet again, revealing an acute and disturbing crisis of morality,” writes prolific Indian Muslim journalist Rana Ayyub in her column for the Washington Post.
Government encouraged discrimination is adding tragedy atop of tragedy during the COVID-19 pandemic, a reality that was given a human face when doctors at a hospital in Rajasthan refused to deliver a pregnant woman’s baby because she was Muslim. The newborn died hours later in the back of an ambulance.
“In the labor room, doctors asked my name and address. I told them my name and that I had come from Nagar. They asked me whether I was Muslim. I said yes. The doctors got alert and said, ‘(if you are) Muslim, then you won’t get any treatment here,’” her husband told The Indian Express.
Police are using COVID-19 as an instrument of terror against Muslims in impoverished neighborhoods.
More alarming still is the fact police are using COVID-19 as an instrument of terror against Muslims in impoverished neighborhoods, including accounts that New Delhi police officers are using the pretext of investigations into the city’s recent anti-Muslim pogrom to kidnap Muslim youths and threaten them with forced exposure to the coronavirus.
At a time when the world’s largest democracy and second largest country is in the grips of fighting a virus that doesn’t make distinctions between religious faiths, a fight that if lost could send the Indian economy into a death spiral it never fully recovers from, the government is fanning the flames of communal polarization to march the country ever closer to taking on the identity of a Hindu fascist state.