Victimhood and suffering are relative. India’s Muslim population has been dealt severe blows in recent months. Now they have to reckon with coronavirus as it encroaches upon Indian soil, and a nationwide lockdown.
In December 2019, Modi’s government introduced an amendment to the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Whereas the standard Indian Citizenship law requires a person to have lived in India for 11 years before they are able to apply for citizenship, the amended bill grants exceptions to migrants fleeing Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The catch? It only applies to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. Notice the yawning absence of Muslims from the list.
Widely criticised as flagrantly anti-Muslim, the change has offended Indians of all faiths. They say faith cannot be made a condition of citizenship, and that the bill violates the secular principles enshrined in the Indian constitution. Quoted by the BBC, historian Mukul Kesavan argues the bill’s “main purpose is the delegitimisation of Muslims’ citizenship” – link.
Many see the controversial bill as part of a larger plan by Modi’s right-wing nationalist government to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims. Senior leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ram Madhav, has called critics ‘bleeding hearts’.
Why is this relevant during coronavirus?
Widespread mob violence and sectarian carnage have forced Muslims from their homes and communities – in droves. Riots fuelled with iron rods, Molotov cocktails and homemade guns have killed dozens and injured hundreds. Mosques have been raided and torched. Thousands of Muslims have found themselves living in makeshift camps.
Add a global coronavirus outbreak into the mix, and the next few months look very rocky for many Muslims – and their supporters – living in India’s cities. The ferocious violence that has engulfed parts of Delhi has left families with nothing but the clothes in which they fled their burning homes.
Now, having introduced unprecedented lockdown measures, Modi’s government has outlawed gatherings of more than 30 people. This obviously threatens the existence of the camps which house hundreds and thousands of India’s Muslims.
“If coronavirus doesn’t kill me, hunger will”
In short, India’s shutdown is catastrophic for its displaced Muslims, who are already marginalised, living day-to-day, and often homeless.
Drivers, maids, auto-rickshaw drivers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, artisans and street vendors buy lentils or vegetables to feed their families from the day’s earnings. There are no reserves, well-stocked freezers, or anything saved for a rainy day. As one daily wage labourer said: “If the coronavirus doesn’t kill me, hunger will.”The Guardian
For those uprooted by the rioting, this applies, but worse. Many families are grieving for loved ones who have been beaten to death. Now, they must fend for their own lives in lockdown. How do you ‘stay at home’ when your home has been torched? Families have no choice but to divide themselves among the homes of relatives, and to stretch their measly ration money beyond all reasonable expectation.
It is easy to feel like a victim of coronavirus. Easier still, to think of one’s grandparents, whose nursing homes are without sufficient medical supplies. But think for a minute of those whose homes are non-existent, whose need for medical attention is dwarfed by hunger and fear, and whose plight is not plastered on the front pages of daily newspapers.
Read more on the subject (or indeed on other subjects) elsewhere on this blog:
Silver Linings Playbook: Is the coronavirus a necessary wake-up call?
What is the most interesting thing about Coronavirus [COVID-19]?
Diarrhoea in India: A Series Of Flatulent Events; or, one account of what it’s like to have diarrhoea in India
An Alternative Tour of India: The truth about Indian culture
Sivananda Yoga Ashram: Review; or, Why We Left
A Most Slippery Man: Amusing notes on the inventor of Vaseline