Corona Virus has wreaked havoc all over the world. Thousand have been killed by this deadly virus. It is, after the 1918 Spanish flu, that such a large scale disruption has been caused to public life and that people have died at this scale, with no end in sight in the near future. Governments all over the world have been taking measures to tackle the pandemic. People have been asked to self-quarantine at their homes. Schools, colleges, universities, and all other offices have been shut down to prevent the spread of this virus and to prevent more deaths.
India has also adopted many measures and enforced a lockdown for 21 days that is likely to be extended. The brunt of this lockdown has been borne mostly by labourers and daily wagers who live hand-to-mouth. But, what India’s right-wing and its many allies and the right-wing media have done wrong, even disgusting, is what any right-wing government does, by promoting myths, bigotry, and falsehoods for its larger design and above all vilify, stigmatise its Muslim minority, and launch a continuous campaign of Islamophobia.
First, a BJP party worker in West Bengal organised a cow urine consumption event, saying that it can prevent people from COVID-19 infection. Its other party workers, and some right-wing leaning academicians and even some public officials, have also endorsed that cow urine is like a medicine and can cure many diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart attacks. BJP affiliated chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, Yogi Adityanath supported the idea that Yoga can cure COVID-19 and India’s high temperature and humidity can challenge its survival.
With the ‘Thali and Tali Bajao‘ (Clap and banging of plates) event in the initial days of COVID-19 cases in India, Indian Prime Minister Modi demonstrated that people still believe him and his talks and theatrics. I believe it has exposed how PM Modi can make people believe myths with his ‘oration’ and how, in my opinion, he and his party has turned Indians a brainwashed bunch.
And after almost two weeks of the lockdown, Modi again asked the country to switch off the lights of their homes and come out with burning candles and diyas on April 5. This, BJP and many of its affiliates, believe is a step away from darkness from to light, and to dispel the darkness of COVID-19, which has more mythical than any scientific ground. But these things are dear to Modi and right-wing. Right-wing populists thrive on these kinds of myths and unscientific propaganda.
Then came the question of Muslims. The Indian media, which was feeling fatigued, and maybe many of its rabble-rousers were left idle during this lockdown, invented a new reason for COVID-19, the ‘other’, the Muslim of India. The disease has been criminalised. Tablighi Jamaat at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz became the target. Fake videos and other stuff related to Islamophobia got circulated on social media within no time.
News agency ANI claimed that residents of Sector 5, Harola in Noida were quarantined after coming in contact with Tablighi Jamaat members. DCP Noida refuted the report, terming the Jamaat link "fake news". #AltNewsFactCheck | @samjawed65 https://t.co/bvTVKihNxT
— Alt News (@AltNews) April 8, 2020
Some tried to name it “Corona Jihad” to vilify Muslims and Tabligh members. The media, within no time, started a campaign asking for the arrest of all Jamaat members and linked the group with many international terror outfits. On April 5, some people fired on a mosque in Gurugramm near Haryana. The accused confessed to the police that they fired on “Jamatis” for reportedly spreading COVID-19 and that they were instigated by WhatsApp messages. Muslims have been attacked and one Muslim man, Mehboob Ali, was beaten to death by a mob in Delhi’s Bawan for supposedly attending a Tableeghi event.
The right-wing is finding one excuse after another to further its agenda of myth, bigotry, and hatred for minorities. It’s pertinent to mention here only some Hindus and Sikhs came to the rescue of Muslims during the recently Delhi riots in which around 60 people were killed, mostly Muslims. The majority middle and lower-middle-class population, which forms the big chunk of BJP voters, have been seemingly swayed by right-wing jingoism and bigotry, and now many from this class have called to boycott the Muslim businesses.
And in the first week of April, almost eight months after the Indian government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy, the BJP government at the center, by taking the benefit of COVID-19 lockdown came up with a new domicile law. The law allowed citizens of mainland India to buy land and apply for government jobs in Jammu and Kashmir which previously was denied thanks to Article 370 (Note: this has since been amended). Many compared this law with an Israel-type annexation and land grabbing. High-speed internet remains suspended in Jammu and Kashmir.
Indian press freedom is at its lowest. The Indian government has muzzled press freedom by shutting down channels, stopping advertisements to channels and newspapers after slight criticism. Many journalists and rationalists have been killed before for airing their views on several social matters and government policies.
Recently Modi convened a meeting of top news executives, allegedly urging them to publish only the ægood news’ about and of the government. Entry and reporting of foreign journalists have been curtailed. It’s pertinent to mention here Press in Jammu and Kashmir is still under censorship and news, views and articles regarding India’s clampdown and revocation of article 370 are not being published in local dailies and magazines.
The media clampdown started with the Kashmir story on August, 5 and many believe that they toed the government line when it came to the human rights abuses in Kashmir last year. According to many, a large section of the Indian media has become a lap dog, not a watchdog, referring to the right-wing Indian media which simply toes the line of the government and is full of Islamophobia and fake and jingoistic reporting.
It is becoming clear day by day that the ruling government is a master at is myth, bigotry, hatred and it is because of these tools it wants to retain the power. From Thali and Tali Bajao to Diya and Gau Mutra, BJP and PM Modi, a populist, is playing its cards well and where it is best at, to make its voters further dumb, and to keep them busy in unimportant things, to fill the society with more bigotry, hatred, and jingoism and to hide its failures on economic, employment and healthcare front. And so far it has succeeded in doing so, but at the cost of India’s already fading secularism and democracy.
This article was first published here.