‘Communalisation of COVID-19 led to discrimination against Muslims’

Report calls for action against fake news, hate speech

Published - January 23, 2021 12:28 am IST - Mumbai

Bebaak Collective, an association of activists advocating rights of Muslim women and the community, has come out with a report documenting the discrimination and violence faced by Muslims due to the communalisation of the pandemic.

The report, ‘Communalisation of Covid-19, experiences from the frontline’, has attributed such discrimination and violence to the communal seizure of institutions. It has recommended a prompt and robust response from the judiciary to reinstate constitutional rights of minorities.

“The findings of the study lead to the conclusions that the synchronised working of the media, police, and State authorities, which reflect in the communal seizure of institutions, was the primary force that allowed for the discrimination, violence and exclusion faced by Muslims,” said the report, which was released on Thursday.

The report was prepared following interviews with different groups and individuals from seven States and Union Territories: Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.

“Most participants had been engaged in intensive relief work and/or advocacy efforts since the beginning of the pandemic,” Hasina Khan, one of the authors of the report, said. She has co-authored the report along with Khawla Zainab and Umara Zainab.

The report pointed out that the identification of the Tablighi Jamaat conference in March 2020 as a COVID-19 hotspot became the basis for the large-scale communalisation of the pandemic.

This was followed by fake news and communally coded news coverage rife with images and ideas that Muslims intentionally spread the virus, it said.

About the impact of fake news and hate speech against Muslims following the Tablighi Jamaat incident, the report said that the vitriol on social media was reflected in the real-world experiences of Muslims as communal slurs and palpable hate-defined interactions of Muslims in their neighbourhoods, communities and places of work.

“Bearing Muslim identifiers had consequences on access to immediate relief. Muslim migrants hid their names, while others who didn’t were denied rations and the stereotype of Muslims as ‘virus carriers’ was used to stop donors from distributing relief materials,” it said.

Among the recommendations, the report has made, are a prompt and robust response from the judiciary; implementation of an anti-discrimination law; and finding a mechanism to check and counter fake news and pernicious propaganda unleashed on social media, with the civil society groups like the National Human Rights Commission, and national and State minority commissions acting as watchdogs by taking suo motu cognisance of hate speech.

Bebaak Collective is a platform for engaging with feminist thoughts and practices, human rights issues, and anti-discrimination struggle.

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