We have all seen a significant rise in cases of doctors being attacked in the COVID-19 that currently clouds our country. The two most famous cases are the ones from Moradabad and Indore. While the attacks are highly condemnable and the people responsible for them must be put to justice, the most important question we need to ask is why the people would attack these doctors?
A common thread between both these attacks is that both of them happened in Muslim localities. The answer to the why has come from some people as a conspiracy against the country, hate towards the ruling government and an underlying thought process of defying every single order by the centre to make it look bad. While these reasons might make sense to some people, we need to consider the context of these attacks and their timelines to know that these are farcical.
Just close to a week before the incident at Indore, doors of Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi were shut by the authorities after it was discovered that a religious gathering was organised there from March 13–15 by the Tablighi Jamaat causing the biggest COVID-19 spike in India. The participants of the congregation had travelled to various states defying guidelines, and resultantly, 4,291 positive cases linked to the Tablighi Jamaat were reported in 23 states.
Up till that point, the virus had been an invisible enemy, but now some people found their scapegoat. The government strictly ordered for everyone who was a part of the congregation to identify themselves. Combined with the gathering being labelled as a terrorist attack on India and the Jamaatis being called Corona bombs, this instilled a sense of fear among certain sections of Indian Muslims. Some people, of course, took this opportunity to criticise Muslims, and a lot of cases of people not letting Muslims sell essential items in their locality came up.
The hate speech was back, and with all the hate comes fear. So when the doctors made a surprise visit to the Taat Batti Bakhal area of Indore, the residents of the Muslim society fearing that they would be mistaken for the people of the Tablighi Jamaat, revolted. Suspecting that they would be unnecessarily quarantined and exposed to the virus, the people resorted to the most regressive form of dissent, violence. They attacked the doctors by pelting stones at them to force them to retreat, resulting in a national outrage.
A similar psyche was at play in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. A resident in the area had died of COVID-19. The officials had come to check the family of the deceased and maybe even quarantine them. It’s not very difficult to imagine how a family member could have believed that the deceased was in good condition at home and only got worse when he was taken to the medical facility, a belief common among the Indian middle-class. Fearing a similar fate, the family, along with the society people, resisted and attacked the officials.
There is no denying that amid all the coronavirus frenzy, there is a section of uneducated and under-educated Muslims who smell a conspiracy from the side of the right-leaning Central government against them; rather than denying such beliefs, we need to find solutions to these problems.
It is untrue that the attacks are happening only in Muslim areas. Irrespective of religion, the awareness about quarantine facilities among the common public is really low. There is a general resentment towards the medical help among a lot of people. Furthermore, fake news about the poor conditions of quarantine facilities is being spread. Rumours of food not being provided and fake videos suggesting unhygienic conditions of quarantine facilities are rampant. These have resulted in people fearing being quarantined, and rising resentment towards health workers, leading to cases of violence as the two mentioned earlier.
The only solution to a problem like this is counselling. Mental health is a serious and mostly unexplored issue in our country. The more developed sections of the society recognise depression, loneliness and anxiety as mental health issues, but somehow, don’t include fear, frenzy and panic in the same bracket.
We should get in touch with the local leaders of different areas and make sure that there is a level of trust from the people who are being quarantined or medically screened. A known face accompanying the officials can also make a huge difference.
While the activities of the people at Nizamuddin Markaz should be criticised, it is essential to note that the most important thing right now is for these people to come out, identify themselves and get quarantined—not for their health but others.
Hate speech will only prove counterproductive to this ambition, and revered personalities from the Films and Sports calling for a mass shooting of these people does not help. We live in a time when a lot of Indians have disowned Gandhi, but they are outnumbered by the millions who still adore him and live by his principles. Criticism is important, but criticism turning into hate speech must be avoided at all cost.
The recent amendment to the laws pertaining to attacks on health workers is a welcome change and will go a long way in providing a sense of security to them. Awareness regarding quarantine facilities and communal harmony must be spread not through Twitter, which does not reach the grassroots of the country, but through television by the Prime Minister himself. We need to realise that the only thing standing between us and the virus are the health workers, and for their safety and well-being, everyone should spread awareness and ask difficult questions.
The lockdown will have to be lifted at some point and India has to resort to relentless testing whether it’s ready for it or not. For this next phase, cooperation and trust from people will be needed more than ever, and we need to act now.