As a Muslim, it is humbling for me to write today that all of the much-maligned Tablighi Jamaat members, who were accused of intentionally spreading the coronavirus and charged under multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code, have been exonerated. The “clean chit” given to the 36 Tablighis, along with the eight others against whom the charges were quashed earlier in August, seems personal because India’s yellow journalism, often dubbed as ‘godi media’, had ensured that about 20 crore Muslim citizens of this country were thoroughly vilified and slandered because a section of Indians needed a reason to target the Muslim community, and the religious gathering at Nizamuddin Markaz in March became the perfect opportunity.
The fact that the Narendra Modi government was seemingly complicit in painting this sordid picture, as suggested by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, is worrying. Judge Arun Kumar Garg clearly stated that it was “reasonably probable” that the accused were “picked up from different places so as to maliciously prosecute them upon directions from (the) Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India”.
Govt to media, all were in
The vilification was systematic and, in most likelihood, a distraction strategy by the Modi government to avoid accountability after failing to heed to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s warnings and preparing for the imminent pandemic. Instead, a narrative was built to pin the spread of Covid on a scapegoat. And who better than a Muslim missionary group. The fact that ‘Namaste Trump’, a crowded event held to welcome the US President in Ahmedabad late February, was easily forgiven and forgotten as a likely hotspot for spreading the coronavirus, shows the anti-Muslim bias. The event saw a congregation of over one lakh people at the Motera cricket stadium. But no one spoke about it. All were fixated on the 2,500 worshippers stuck in Markaz in Delhi’s Nizamuddin. And the slurs flew like confetti. Some called them ‘Talibanis’, others ‘jihadis’ and some went as far as to call them ‘bombs’.
Yellow journalism in India was at its zenith. With TV channels running back-to-back shows on Madrasa hotspots, ‘Corona Jihad’ and ‘Tablighi super spreaders’, random stories on Covid-19, which had nothing to do with the Tablighis, featured cover photos of skullcap donning Muslim men or burka-clad Muslim women. The subliminal message was constantly being fed to the public. “They” spread the virus in India while the Chinese spread it to the world. The fake, vicious narratives were run at prime time with convenient question marks added to disparaging statements, branding Tablighis as ‘traitors’. The propagation of Islamophobia was barefaced and unmerciful.
But that’s how the Modi government and pro-BJP media function in these sorry times. All ills must be blamed on someone. And the description of that ‘someone’ is always uncannily similar. Someone with a distinct identity, someone with a strong opinion not in compliance with the government and someone who belongs to a minority group are most likely the top picks for scapegoating. And the farmer protests drive this point home.
Sikh farmers, the latest enemy
It’s unreal that we have seen two prominent farmer protests since the Modi government first came to power in 2014 — in March 2017 and then in November 2018. But only now, during the ongoing protest against the government’s new agriculture laws, have farmers been called ‘terrorists’ or Khalistanis. Why? Because this time, the protest is led by Sikh farmers of Punjab. The protests have been termed as ‘anti-national’ by the media as well as the ruling party that runs the government. Haryana chief minister and BJP leader M.L. Khattar has on record said that he has “reports on Khalistani presence in farmers’ protest”. The BJP’s Information Technology Cell head Amit Malviya too has alleged that these protests have “Khalistani and Maoist” links. Then there are BJP-leaning influencers and celebrities like Kangana Ranaut who keep feeding this narrative.
The media is not far behind either. And the accusations are audaciously identical. This time again, the convenient question mark follows the denigrating statements like “Farmers’ agitation hijacked; Khalistani terrorists behind violence during protests?” Just like the vivid conspiracy theories that were cooked up against the Tablighis getting “foreign funding” and violating provisions of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), the same accusations are now being hurled at farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders and how the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is mulling a crackdown on the “foreign funding” received by ‘Khalistani outfits’ and a probe into their “anti-India activities” and role in the ongoing farmer protests.
The predictability of those who get accused and the reasons for it are almost always the same. Be it Muslims or Sikh farmers. And the accusers are also often the same — the MHA and the pro-BJP media. But just like the vilification against Muslims over the Tablighi Jamaat congregation was thrown out in the court and the hateful targeting was exposed, the slandering of Sikh farmers will meet the same fate.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal. Views are personal.
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