How Islamophobia Is Hurting India's Battle Against The Coronavirus

Betwa Sharma
A Delhi Forensic Science Laboratory team during an investigation at the Markaz Banglewali Masjid in Nizamuddin, on April 5, 2020 in New Delhi, India.

NEW DELHI —  The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) relentless campaign against India’s 140 million Muslims, and a lack of transparency on the part of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-run Delhi government, is compromising India’s attempts at containing the novel coronavirus, members of the community say.

On Friday, 3 April, surveyors from Delhi’s health department were run out of the city’s Nizamuddin neighbourhood after the surveyors couldn’t prove they were in fact sent by the state government. The first four questions on the Delhi government’s health survey form ― what is the name of the head of the household, the house address, the mobile number and how many people live in the household ― alarmed the residents. 

Residents said they feared that data gathered by the surveyors would find its way to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) — which in turn could be used to render thousands of citizens stateless.

The few forms the surveyors had managed to fill were torn up by the residents. 

The fears are not as far-fetched as they sound: As recently as February this year, the BJP made Islamophobia a centrepiece of the party’s election campaign in Delhi, and senior BJP members including Home Minister Amit Shah have telegraphed mixed messages by first promising to create a nation-wide NRC, only to subsequently disavow their claims.

Nizamuddin has been on edge since it was declared a coronavirus hotspot, after hundreds of cases of COVID-19 across the country were traced to a large congregation organised in the neighbourhood by the Tablighi Jamaat religious order. 

The subsequent outpouring of explicit anti-Muslim hate on social media and television channels, and from members of the BJP, has set up a vicious cycle where the hate campaign has made an already marginalised community wary of state authorities, making it harder to tackle the virus, which in turn prompts more Muslim demonisation and Islamophobia.

“The atmosphere till just a few weeks...

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