Guarding against communal virus and blind faith

The Union church looks deserted as it closed due to the city observing lockdown to fight COVID-19 in Bhubaneswar.   | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

Whether or not the Tablighi Jamaat acted illegally, there can be no two opinions about the fact that it acted irresponsibly and foolishly by organising a gathering of several thousand people at its headquarters in Nizamuddin in Delhi. Thousands of people from several countries and several States of India assembled here; hundreds of them returned homes with virus, creating a transmission chain that appears to be the single longest for coronavirus in India since its outbreak. Tablighi’s blinding obsession with the hereafter and debilitating ignorance of the real world are shocking but not unique. Also, there is nothing exclusively Islamic about combining ignorance and folly; if anything, this is a shared trait across religions.

Some examples during the corona season would have been hilarious but for the trail of tragedy those might have created.

“If you feel Holy Qurbana can transmit something other than healing, maybe you should re-examine your faith!,” Bishop Zachariah Mar Nicholovos, who heads the Northeast American diocese of the Orthodox Church, posted on Facebook on March 13.

Several Christian priests in Kerala have tried to organise masses, putting the faithful at harm’s way. If an educated, English-speaking bishop can dismiss the elementary fact that people gathering shoulder to shoulder, and sharing the bread and wine from the same utensils can transmit the virus around, that is pretty serious. He went a step further and declared that fact as a loss of faith. Bishop Zachariah put out another post on Facebook on March 28, this time disclosing that he had contracted the virus. He has quarantined himself.

Shi’ite Iraqi Islamic scholar Hadi Al-Modarresi, who had declared that the virus was an “act of Allah” and “Divine Punishment against the Chinese” for their treatment of Muslims, soon contracted it.

A day after the PM came on TV and called for all religious congregations to end, Chief Minister of U.P. Yogi Adityanath — himself a priest — led a religious event in Ayodhya. Incidentally, when the believers were congregating at the Nizamuddin, the U.P. administration was still going ahead with its preparation for the Ram Navami celebrations in Ayodhya from March 25, where lakhs would have gathered. Several pilgrimage centres remained open well after COVID-19 had become a global pandemic.

Watch | Yogi Adityanath shifts Ram idol amid lockdown

Since you cannot convert the fundamentalists before devising an action plan to deal with a pandemic, what the state does is more consequential. The first COVID-19 case in India was reported in Kerala on January 30. A government release last week detailed the timeline of its response, which it said was “preemptive, proactive and graded.” While one hopes and wishes that the strategy turns out to be successful, there was no timely effort to communicate any such strategy to the public in time. A conference of Chief Ministers should have taken place much earlier, and all schools and public buildings in this country should have been converted to liveable quarantine facilities — with the hope that they would never be used.

The Union government organised the biggest gathering of people U.S. President Donald Trump has seen in his life, in the last week of February, in Ahmedabad. As the lockout was being announced, on March 24, hundreds of people milled around to celebrate the return of the BJP in M.P. Parliament continued to be session, for no good reason — potentially creating a big contact chain.

Yes, this is not the time for a blame game or finding faults. But those who have taken to communal calumny following the Tablighi turmoil in this difficult time must consider these facts. Clichéd as it may be, relevant it still remains — the virus does not discriminate.

The communal virus is more dangerous, more infectious and more harmful for the nation than coronavirus. It is already symptomatic. The cure and prevention to both is not social distancing, but complete social solidarity.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 7:01:37 PM |

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