COVID-19 as a Weapon of Reconfiguring Communal Divisions

By Sayan Dey

This article reflects upon how COVID-19 is not just a biomedical chaos in India but is opening up new grounds for different forms of social, cultural and communal violence. It is doing so, by reconfiguring and re-systematizing the already existing communal conflicts in new formats, which has been elaborated in this article.

A few days back, the communally/politically sugar-coated media in collaboration with the governing authorities (central as well as state) made an Archimedean discovery behind the alarming rise of COVID-19 positive cases in India. As the discovery reveals, on March 13, 2020, around 3400 people gathered at the Nizamuddin Markaz as a part of a religious gathering. Though the Chief Minister of New Delhi Arvind Kejriwal announced the closure of any form of social, cultural and religious gatherings from March 16, yet it was found that the religious gatherings at Nizamuddin did not discontinue. Due to these gatherings, it has been found that several attendees, both from India as well as abroad, has tested positive. As a result, the government, with the assistance of medical staffs have started identifying the attendees across the country and are putting them under strict medical observations. Apparently, this action appears to be quite scientific and logical, isn’t it? But, it is strongly underpinned with communal propagandism, which has been one of the central socio-political ideology of the current ruling government. Obviously, by ignoring the importance of physical and social isolations, any form of public gatherings only uphold sheer callousness and the lack of common sense. But, the government very strategically used the Nizamuddin Markaz incident to re-configure their communally structured ‘divide and rule’ policies and distract the people from the various infrastructural shortcomings that the nation is encountering during this crisis. It is important to note that prior to and after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s declaration of the nationwide lockdown, Nizamuddin Markaz was not the only public gathering that took place.

There are ample instances which show that prominent individuals and institutions have deliberately ignored the advice of social distancing and have organized large public events. Let us take a look into a few instances. On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8, a public gathering was organized by the President of India at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi. On the same day, with due permission of the Government of Kerala, a ten-day-long temple festival commenced. Interestingly, it was also on the same day that five new COVID-19 cases were reported in the state’s Pathanamthitta district. On March 15, the wedding ceremony of the state legislator of Karnataka Mahantesh Kavatgimath’s daughter was attended by several people including Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa. On the same day of the announcement of the nationwide lockdown by the Prime Minister i.e. 24 March, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, defied it and attended a Ram Navami event in Ayodhya. He even tweeted about the event publicly on the next day. On April 2, flouting the lockdown rules, several devotees across different parts of West Bengal assembled outside the temples to celebrate Ram Navami. In a similar fashion, the state cabinet ministers of Telangana also publicly celebrated Ram Navami on the same day. So, with respect to these examples, the obvious question that comes to the forefront: Despite the fact that so many religious, social and cultural gatherings are being organized amidst the pandemic scare, why the media and the governing authorities are exclusively highlighting the Markaz event as a prominent reason behind the sudden rise of positive cases? Which medical sciences claim that only Islamic gatherings lead to the rise of COVID-19 and Hindu gatherings doesn’t? Well, even if medical sciences doesn’t claim so, but the political ideologies of ‘distraction’ and ‘extraction’ of the present governing structure makes a consistent effort to naturalize and authenticate such a form of narrative.

Through provoking events like mob lynching, killing of Muslims for selling and consuming beef, ransacking of mosques, violence against Muslim students in the university campuses and physical assaults against the Muslims who have been protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), the government has already made efforts to embed mainframe Hinducentrism as the habitual existential cult in contemporary India. This process of systematic dehumanization of non-Hindu socio-cultural practices gained further impetus with the arrival of COVID-19 and the communalization of the Nizamuddin Marakaz event is a burning example. It has opened a wider gateway for the current governing structure to expand their doctrines of ‘divide and rule’ and has also enabled them to curate a set of post-COVID-19 social, cultural, political and scientific narratives of violence. In the future, these narratives might assist them to further justify that why Hinduism is more civilized, more superior, more sensible and more valid than Islam and will function as a strong support system for their communally segregated political frameworks. Therefore, as individuals, it is crucial for us to realize that for India the pandemic of COVID-19 is not only a biomedical chaos, but also a foundational ground for multiple forms of social, cultural, racial and communal pandemics in the near future.

Sayan is a Lecturer in Yonphula Centenary College, Royal University of Bhutan. His areas of teaching and research interests lie in cultural studies, race studies, sociology and decoloniality. He can be reached at sayandey89@yahoo.com.

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