Coronavirus outbreak and societal challenges

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By: Azhar Yousuf

The coronavirus (COVID-19) broke out in Wuhan, China, during the culmination of the year 2019, and since then the virus has posed a serious threat to the entire humanity. Whole world is facing immense trouble in effectively containing the virus and dealing with the situations in the aftermath. The World Health Organization has characterized COVID-19 as the first pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. To write something about the COVID-19, there are thousands of ways to start with, I prefer the one which is completely relevant to India in general and our Valley in particular.

Yes, what I have in mind are the societal challenges posed by the virus outbreak in India. It is well-known that India is the most secular country and in-fact secularism has always inspired modern India. However, the secular fabric of India is being destroyed by the self-proclaimed nationalists of the country.

These self-proclaimed nationalists are always hell-bent to pinpoint the Muslim minority for any untoward incident in the country. They could not spare the Muslims with regard to the outbreak of COVID-19 as well. It is quite disheartening to observe that even some media outlets are also engaged in endorsing these prejudiced ideas and opinions in their malicious acts of Islamophobia.

The rife use of the hashtag #CoronaJihad to defame the Muslim community adds to the mental agony. Since March 28, tweets with the hashtag#CoronaJihad have appeared nearly 4,00,000 times and potentially seen by over 200 million people on Twitter.

It is pertinent to mention that US President Donald Trump had initially termed coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” for the reason that the virus originated from China. The name coined by the American president is misleading in the sense that it is completely inadequate and unethical to associate ethnicity with the virus. The western media promptly acted and played an important role in correcting the US president and since then we have never heard of the term “Chinese virus”.

The present circumstances in India are comparatively worse as the biased Indian media is engaged in vilifying the Muslim community and is leaving no stone unturned in associating religion to the virus. The least we can infer from the prevailing situation in India is that even the pandemic has miserably failed in teaching lessons of humanity to the self-proclaimed nationalists of this country.

While the whole world is steadfast in the resolve to combat the disastrous virus, many political opportunists and their minions are engaged in playing blame-games and targeting the Muslim community in general for the spread of the deadly virus in India.

The ongoing Islamophobic agenda is motivated by the fact that a Muslim congregation was hit by the coronavirus in early March. Authorities had linked thousands of COVID-19 cases to a Muslim missionary group (Tableeghi Jamaat) that held its annual conference in Delhi in early March. The Islamophobic hashtags began circulating shortly after the news broke out and the political opportunists — self-declared nationalists — joined the tirade in no time.

It is worth mentioning that such opportunists are ultimately more dangerous to society than the virus itself. Hopefully, the virus will be swiped away in near future but such gullible people will fuel their malicious intentions for a long time and keep on instilling fear into the minds of the Muslim community, which may prove to be more hazardous than the virus itself.

The recent deplorable incident that took place with Jawala Gutta, an Indian professional badminton player and the Common Wealth medalist, has yet again shown the uglier side as a society for our capacity of prejudice and racism. Jawala is of mixed heritage — her mother is Chinese and for that reason, she is being called “Half-Corona”.

We all must admit the fact that neither the virus is infecting on communal basis nor are the combat teams working on such lines. Nobody, absolutely nobody, is immune to the virus. The deadly virus has brought the whole world down to the knees and is continuously giving tough time to all the countries across the globe, including the technologically sophisticated nations. The prevailing situation is unprecedented and provides an impetus to the fact that none of the countries across the globe can be immune to any natural or artificial calamity on individual levels.

The number of COVID-19 cases across the globe this week crept over 1.5 million and more than 1,00,000 people have already died. The exponential growth of the COVID-19 curve demonstrates that the numbers will swell at an alarming pace. The virus has instilled a sense of “real fear” among masses and the terrible illness it has brought in its wake has locked humans down in their countries, their cities and their homes.

Under these circumstances, we are obliged to rise above hate, join hands together and be steadfast in our resolve to efficiently contain the virus at the earliest.The US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback while urging the religious groups to practice social distancing has also reiterated upon the governments across the world to aggressively push back the “blame game” over the origin of COVID-19.

The need of the hour is to strictly adhere to the medical advisory, shun religious or political differences, desist from all blame-games and pledge to make the whole world a better place to live in.

Coming to other part of the story, it is well-known that Kashmir is amongst the religiously sensitive regions of the country and even a small religious argument can turn into a scuffle. Every nook and corner of the Valley is occasionally flooded with both religious and political debates, and the blame-games played by the local religious orators are not alien here. The sectarian realm of our Valley is also prolific and most of the minions of certain sects or missionaries are often engaged in passing comments against others.

Here also certain religious orators are always involved in making remarks against the Tableeghi Jamaat for their unique way of preaching. It is pertinent to mention that the Tableeghi Jamaat has its roots in over 150 countries and these numbers suggest the immense following and popularity of this Islamic missionary. The Tableeghi Jamaat consists of preachers who give up their comforts to spread the message of Islam and at the same time put themselves in an atmosphere which is befitting for spiritual enlightenment. As the Tableeghi Jamaat has its roots dug deep in our Valley, so an abysmal impact of the ongoing propaganda against it being accused as carriers of the virus in India, might be witnessed in our Valley in the near future. Many opportunistic religious orators might be eagerly waiting for the resumption of congregations, wherein they enjoy sufficient impunity, to target the Tableeghi Jamaat for their unorthodox way of preaching. Such orators, in essence, are at par with the political opportunists and Islamophobists in India which are presently engaged in blaming the Muslim community for facilitating the entry of COVID-19 to India.

Under these circumstances, we are obliged to keep a vigil on such individuals and resist and discourage their malicious attempts so that a sense of peace and harmony prevails in our Valley.

(AzharYousuf is a Research Scholar at the South Campus, University of Kashmir. He can be reached at [email protected])

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