When a Virus Becomes Political…The Tablighi Jamaat attacks

AnushkaVijay_IndiaPakistanCoronaVirus-01Writer: Anusha T.

Editor: Norbu D.

Visuals: Anushka V.


The world is reeling under the impact of COVID-19 and the lives lost are now approaching 150,000.  Health workers are risking their lives, daily workers cannot earn a wage and a great recession seems to be dawning again. 

Our little worlds have been disrupted: online schools cannot make up for the real connection between a student and a teacher, skype and facetime cannot substitute for a visit from grandma, and some of us are mourning the loss of once-in-a-lifetime experiences like graduation. We see our parents whispering about lost bonuses and making tough decisions like staying in Manila or going back to our home country. It is worrying, but we try to put a brave face on it, and stay positive. We focus on enjoying the forced downtime and making the best of the situation. We take this opportunity to indulge in their hobbies or acquire new skills like cooking, working out, and taking online courses.

Unfortunately, as the world tries to rise to the occasion, there are also some groups who are taking advantage of these times to achieve darker objectives. These may come in the form of innocuous statements like Trump labeling this the “China virus” or more overt political moves like executive orders that consolidate power, or even ridiculous extremes like banning the use of the word “Coronavirus” by state media (yes, this did happen in Turkmenistan).

One such example is the communilization of the coronavirus in India. Mass arrests, hateful messages, beatings, and other violent attacks have been focused on the Muslim minority in India, and much of this started with an event organized by Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic missionary movement. As stated by the NYT, a group of over 4000 people had congregated at a mosque, including 250 foreigners, and an irresponsible member caught the virus and wasn’t quarantined. This led to the spread of the virus however the event wasn’t cancelled and many of the missionaries remained at the event. This was an irresponsible and dangerous action but these actions were mirrored across the country by several other groups, and even at press conferences by political leaders. What distinguishes this particular incident is that it occurred in a mosque and therefore is continuously identified as a Muslim act of irresponsibility. 

In all fairness, the group has done nothing to help themselves. Yes, the event started prior to lockdown, but instead of quarantining themselves, they remained as a large group even when notified that there were COVID positive individuals living there and to make matters worse they spread all around India. Now, they are the cause of 647 of the total 2301 cases in India. There is no denying the facts, this one event provoked 1/3 of the known cases. However, this is a misleading statistic as the testing levels in India are very low As stated by S. Harlankar, “so many Tabhlighis tested positive because so many were tested”. The investigation of Tablighi supporters has been under heavy scrutiny which could have led to an increase in the identification of COVID-19 positive cases within this community. It all leads back to the same question: why are the Tablighi Jamaat supporters being subjected to so much hate and violence instead of having them follow the due process of law for their actions? 

Violence and hatred can never be condoned, let alone at a time when the world is learning to deal with a global health crisis on an unprecedented scale. It is diverting time, energy and resources away from what we should be focusing on, staying positive at home, and beating corona. 

Gettleman, Jeffrey, et al. “In India, Coronavirus Fans Religious Hatred.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Apr. 2020, http://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/12/world/asia/india-coronavirus-muslims-bigotry.html.

Halarnkar, Samar. “Coronavirus Is Proving to Be Another Excuse to Marginalise India’s Muslims.” Quartz India, Quartz, 13 Apr. 2020, qz.com/india/1836768/coronavirus-is-another-excuse-to-marginalise-indias-muslims/.

Jazeera, Al. “Trump Defends Calling Coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus’.” Coronavirus Pandemic | Al Jazeera, 23 Mar. 2020, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/newsfeed/2020/03/trump-defends-calling-coronavirus-chinese-virus-200323102618665.html.

Malhotra, Prerna. “Vision of ‘New India’ As Propagated by PM Modi Inspires Indian Diaspora, Hence the Unprecedented Campaign.” News18, News18, 22 May 2019, http://www.news18.com/news/opinion/the-vision-of-new-india-as-propagated-by-pm-modi-has-adequately-inspired-indian-diaspora-hence-the-unprecedented-campaign-2155581.html.

Sharma, Nidhi. “647 Coronavirus Positive Cases in Two Days Linked to Tablighi Jamaat.” The Economic Times, Economic Times, 4 Apr. 2020, economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/647-coronavirus-positive-cases-in-two-days-linked-to-tablighi-jamaat/articleshow/74967407.cms.