2020 – we will all remember this year for many reasons. We will remember this as a year when a mighty virus brought the world’s leading economies to halt, it locked people down into their homes for months at a stretch. But, I will also remember 2020 as a year when, along with the virus, came hatred and restlessness.
I will remember 2020 as a year when hatred was injected in the bloodstream of this country. March was peculiarly blatant for the country for various reasons. On 11th of March, WHO declared that COVID-19 was a pandemic and amusingly, just two days later on 13th March, the health ministry came out only to state that coronavirus “is not a health emergency.”
Only a few days after this bizarre statement, Narendra Modi suddenly imposed a national lockdown that would be in effect merely after 4 hours of the announcement. Within no time, the mainstream media found a ‘scapegoat’ in the form of Tablighi Jamaat – a religious congregation that was organised before the lockdown. And then began 24×7 anti-Muslim campaign by the media, which suggested that Muslims were responsible for the virus and that they were spreading it as a kind of ‘jihad’.
The media did not hesitate in openly campaigning and targeting one particular community. The impact of this toxic campaign is immeasurable, the result of this religious polarization was seen in various parts of the country.
The court later blamed the government for finding a scapegoat in Tablighi Jamaat and it also acquitted all the foreign nationals who attended the congregation. But is it enough? Is it enough for Mehboob Ali of Delhi who was thrashed for ‘spreading the virus’? Is it enough for numerous Muslim street vendors who weren’t allowed to sell? Is it enough for the Jamaat members who spent several months in jail for absolutely nothing? The mainstream media fueled the fire of hatred and it will take a very long time for that fire to extinguish completely.
When the country was under lockdown and its people were busy consuming the hatred that the media fondly projected, there was something that went unnoticed by many of us. Behind the thick fog of the pandemic surged the arrests of scholars, journalists, activists and even students.
There is a long list of arrests that happened in the year 2020 starting from Sharjeel Imam, a research scholar at JNU, Meeran Haider, Shifa Ur Rehman, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Gulfisha Fatima- all students or scholars from the leading universities of India- are all lying behind the bars since several months without bail for resisting, for speaking, for protesting.
The case with student leaders such as Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Umar Khaled is no different. All of them were prominent faces in the anti CAA protests and now they are all lying in jail and are booked under the controversial UAPA.
I will also remember this year when speaking and dissenting became a crime while hating and polarisation became the ‘new normal’.
The year 2020 also saw arrests of journalists like Siddique Kappan, who was arrested while he was on his way to do what his job demands. He was on his way to Hathras to report on the brutality on a 19-year-old Dalit woman.
This surge in the number of arrests that happened in the world’s largest democracy when more than 150,000 people have died due to the deadly virus is concerning. When the topmost priority of the government should be to protect the people from coronavirus it’s busy in filling up the prisons.
I see the year 2020 as one of the darkest clouds over the country yet, there was a silver lining in the form of the spirit of people like Sharjeel Usmani- a prominent anti CAA activist- who even after spending several weeks in jail is determined and standing strong against all the odds.
Indeed, we will all remember 2020 for our own reasons but I will always remember it as a year of arrest and unrest both metaphorically and literally.