Former Indian civil servants protest targeting of Muslims over COVID-19

By on 30/04/2020
Girls chase doves at Jama Masjid, Delhi's main mosque. (Photo by Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons).

Over 100 former civil servants in India have signed an open letter to the country’s chief state ministers denouncing the harassment of Muslims, which they believe has worsened since the coronavirus outbreak.  

The group of former All-India and Central Services officials, who call themselves the Constitutional Conduct Group, has acted following an uptick in bad feeling towards Muslims – a minority group in India. Tensions have risen following an event organised by Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat last month, which broke the government’s social distancing rules. India’s Health Ministry earlier this month said that the event had been linked to over 4000 cases of COVID-19.

The former officials acknowledge that Tablighi Jamaat’s actions were “misguided and condemnable”, but voice concern that the media has used the event to blame Muslims for spreading COVID-19, calling the media’s actions “utterly irresponsible and reprehensible”.

“Such coverage has fuelled hostility towards the Muslim community in parts of the country,” the letter says, adding that the fear and insecurity generated by the pandemic is being channelled into the “othering” of the Muslim community and efforts to keep them out of public spaces. They cite examples of Muslim vendors being assaulted; of Muslims being unable to cross state borders due to fears of mob attacks; and even of Muslims being turned away from health facilities – including a woman who was forced to give birth outside a hospital after being denied entry. In addition, the letter cites reports that Muslim families affected by the coronavirus crisis are being denied government welfare payments.

The former officials point out that India has traditionally maintained good relations with Muslim nations and that recent developments have sparked serious concerns in such countries. “We should ensure, through non-discriminatory action and relief measures, that the minorities have nothing to fear in India. This will help assuage the misgivings of these countries,” they say, as well as avoiding “consequential detriment to the prospects” of Indian people living and working in them.   

The letter asks chief state ministers to emphasise that no particular group is particularly responsible for spreading COVID-19. Public functions should to be vigilant to prevent the social boycott of any community, it says, and “to ensure that all the entitlements including medical and hospital care, rations and financial assistance are available equally to all those in need”.  

“The entire country is going through unprecedented trauma. We can endure, survive and overcome the challenges that this pandemic has imposed on us only by remaining united and helping each other. We laud those chief ministers who have been resolutely secular in their approach both in general and, in particular, in relation to this pandemic,” it adds.

The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is a proponent of Hindu nationalism, and has been accused of fuelling discrimination against Muslims since taking office in 2014. He denies the government is targeting Muslims.   

In January, retired civil servants – including a former Cabinet secretary and chief information commissioner – wrote an open letter urging the Indian government to back down on a national identity scheme, arguing that it would disadvantage Muslims and other marginalised groups.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

3 Comments

  1. Arun

    30/04/2020 at

    Hi Mia.

    Have you also looked into the reports where the health workers were beaten up and forced out of the their areas by muslims?

    Have you at all covered how muslims more than other have been defying lockdown rules laid by the government?

    Unfortunately it is articles like this that cause friction amongst communities.

    Bad journalism.

  2. Tarun

    01/05/2020 at

    Mia, it is very important that senior civil servants voice their concerns about actions by political masters and media. However, this would not have come about if there was a strong outright condemnation of the event organized by Tablighi Jamaat by the Muslim leadership in India. In the absence of such condemnation, there is bound to be repercussions on the wider Muslim community which is obeying the government social rules.

  3. Azad

    01/05/2020 at

    Well, health workers were abused as well as lockdown rules not only by name sake Muslims but by name sake non-muslims as well but unfortunately Indian media didn’t bother to cover this at all, did it?? We should put our hand on our hearts and ask this question. Also, no religion has got anything to do with such incidents. Any person irrespective of religion has to follow lockdown rules and if someone abuses it then its their individual fault not someone else’s faith as there are equally people of faith that followed locked down rules too, didn’t they? Don’t be biased fellow as few name sake Hindu fanatics discovered medicine to corona by drinking cow’s urine and during lockdown, didn’t they?? It was very well covered by Indian media. Never to forget we are humans mate, grow up. Imagine you get treated the same way in west?? Ohh yeah, Asian neighbourhoods are known for uncleanliness and rubbish and same to same defying lockdown rules. India till 90’s and early 2000’s was just awesome but now no doubt they would like to make it a religious state with BJP in power and besides being a “democratic” on a paper and yeah I have strong Indian roots too and majority of my friends are Hindus, Christians etc.. There’s definitely right to speech yes but doesn’t mean there’s right to hatred too. Just imagine if the western governments treat its minorities the same way the Indian government treats its minorities. Scary, isn’t it ??

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