(MENAFN - Kashmir Observer)
By R. Raj Rao
IN hindsight, one can safely conclude that the pogrom launched against the Tablighi Jamaatis this time last year was not on account of the coronavirus, but because of Islamophobia. The Jamaatis were singled out because they were worshippers of Allah. Months after the vituperative vilification campaign against the Muslims from all over the world who had gathered at the mosque in Hazrat Nizammudin, New Delhi, to celebrate the religious event, the Bombay High Court ruled that there was no proof that it was the Jamaatis who were responsible for the spread of coronavirus in India. In effect, the Jamaatis were merely being made the scapegoat for the government's failure to control the pandemic.
What is appalling, however, is the double standards when it comes to minorities. If that wasn't the case, would the government and media house have turned a blind eye to what was happening at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Uttarakhand? To fulminate against a Hindu religious festival, however, is blasphemy. Worshippers believe that the gods will save them. Some have even gone on record to inanely say, when TV reporters, risking their own lives, have landed in Haridwar to randomly interview them, that the fact that 'corona is bunkum'. They are in denial to that extent.
As I write this piece on Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's 130th birth anniversary, which is also the beginning of the Muslim month of Ramadan, I wonder, ironically, if the founding father of our Constitution was not off the mark in visualising post-independence India as a secular democracy, where the state would have no official religion.
But if religion is one aspect of hypocrisy, the other aspect is politics. As I write this piece, Maharashtra, where I live, goes into lockdown from 8 pm tonight. Why? Because the state has the highest number of the new strain of coronavirus cases, with my city, Pune, having the notorious distinction of topping the list. But then it is we the poor who are to suffer for the spread, even held responsible for it. We have to shut our small shops, our street food stalls, our hairdressing salons, our motorbike repair garages, our laundries, our massage parlours and so on, and stay at home without work and without an income. True, the Chief Minister has announced a relief money package for some of us, but then we wonder how many of us will actually be recipients of the state government's largesse.
Many of us are haunted by dreadful memories of last year's lockdown, when many had to trek for thousands of miles all the way to our hometowns, some of us dying on the way. We have nightmares just thinking of that time. Thus, we have begun to assemble at major train stations like Pune Junction, and Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Mumbai in the sweltering heat, to board the first available trains back to our villages. After all, can we be certain that the two-week lockdown announced by the Chief Minister, will not be extended to four, five and six weeks? Can we and our families stay without food and without work for that long? But even here, at the train stations, we have already become victims of police brutality once again, with the police caning us as if we are thugs.
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But do any of the restrictions announced by the government apply to our more-than-equal politicians? No way! Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis held an election rally close to the holy town of Pandharpur only two days ago. TV channels showed him addressing crowds of attendees, many of them without masks, or with masks lowered to their chins. Why, the man himself was without a mask!
And what about West Bengal, where everyone from the Prime Minister to the Home Minister to the state Chief Minister has been addressing rallies with audiences of thousands, once again without masks and without physical, let alone social distance? The BJP is out to prove that the wheel has come full circle in West Bengal. From the extreme leftism of Naxalbari in Darjeeling district in 1967, to the left front government of Jyoti Basu for decades afterwards, the electorate has now swung to the extreme right.
Our politicians at election rallies are like children in a toyshop. All they can see, to the exclusion of everything else, are their voters who will bring them votes.
Corona may appear in the world in waves for the next five years or more, but it isn't for our politicians and our religionists. It is merely for us, children of a lesser god.
Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- Dr. R. Raj Rao is an internationally known Indian English novelist, poet and critic. He was Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Pune in Maharashtra. He has also been a Visiting Professor at universities in Canada and Germany
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