Indian Muslims: The propaganda between news and views

A Muslim man covers his face using a jacket due to Corona scare in New Delhi. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Tahir Azmi and Ammar Aftab

If you elide crucial context and important facts, it is easy to make a religious gathering such as the one held in the international headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat in Nizamuddin area of Delhi, a wicked crime against humanity. The Tablighi Jamaat has been at the centre of row after at least a dozen of its members, who reportedly attended a religious congregation at its international headquarters in Nizamuddin area of Delhi were tested positive for COVID-19. 

Tablighi Jamaat, as the name suggests, is a century-old Islamic missionary movement, established in India and spread across the world, with more than a hundred million members worldwide that are focused on urging Muslims to return to practising their religion as it was being practised during the lifetime of the last Islamic Prophet. 

Soon after the news broke that a dozen Tablighi Jamaat members have been tested positive for COVID-19, the organization has been vilified, and its members have been criminalised for allegedly spreading the deadly virus intentionally. Indian TV news channels have used derogatory and defamatory headlines such as ‘aafat ki Jamat’ (disastrous Jamat), ‘Corona Jihad se Desh ko Bachao’(Save country from Corona Jihad) and many more to describe the organization. The entire mainstream media, through its reporting, suggested that organization and the entire Muslim community were criminals involved in doing ‘Corona Jihad – a term they invented to describe an act of spreading coronavirus intentionally.  

If that alone wasn’t enough of a hate campaign against a religious minority, several websites and social media influencers started peddling fake news to intensify their hate campaign. Members of Tablighi Jamaat and Muslims, in general, were falsely accused of spitting on fruits, and licking utensils to spread corona. Another website claimed that foreign nationals associated with the organization were hiding in a mosque in Patna. Muslims were specifically taunted, accused and socially boycotted for allegedly spreading coronavirus. In one incident 37-year old Mohammad Dilshad hanged himself to death after witnessing a social boycott by his fellow villagers.

Tablighi Jamaat spokesperson told The Hindu that ‘the organization committed no illegality and that no religious events were held on or after March 22, the day of the Janata curfew as announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. President of All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen and Member of Parliament from Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi expressed on Twitter that ‘questions should be asked to those in power. Not from a Jamaat that was behaving as most Indian citizens were behaving at the time’. 

What the media failed to highlight, or simply put, what the media chose to overlook is the fact that Asaduddin Owaisi highlighted in his tweet. The blame has to be put on the government for its inability to not allow visitors coming from COVID-19 affected countries. Also, one crucial piece of information that the media did not reveal was that the congregation by Tablighi Jamaat was not the only public gathering that was held in the month of March. From what we know, Ram Navami celebrations in Uttar Pradesh, that was attended by the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath himself and the Hola Mohalla festival in Punjab were also held in the same week. 

The media, by presenting distorted facts and misleading figures, created propaganda which essentially said that almost every positive COVID-19 case was either directly related to Tablighi Jamaat or was spread by the members of Tablighi Jamaat. The problem with these figures is that while it may look authentic, it is nothing but misleading. The only way to find the correct figure is by doing mass testing of every citizen, as is suggested by the World Health Organization. If the government decided only to test members of Tabligh Jamaat, it would definitely look as if only they have the virus.  

What is important here for you, readers, to note is that hate crimes against Muslims have always been preceded by Media propaganda. Not long ago, Shaheen Bagh protest was targeted and attacked by members of the ruling party, after the media falsely reported that the protesting women were sitting there for the money, and that they were being paid a sum of Rs 500 per day to sit. Soon enough, the protest site was attacked, several times. 

If we examine the incidents of hate crimes and anti-Muslim riots, we find a similar pattern in the role of media in enabling the violence against Muslims. Asghar Ali Engineer in his book, Lifting The Veil: communal violence and communal harmony in contemporary India mentioned that how in midst of riots in Aligarh in 1990, a rumour was mischievously published in local newspapers that Hindu patients were deliberately killed by Muslim doctors in JN Medical College of Aligarh Muslim University resulting in large scale violence. Gomti Express was stopped outside the station and Muslims were dragged out and killed. Similarly, when communal violence erupted in Moradabad in 1980, a leading English newspaper had summarily held the Muslim community responsible for starting the riots, as if the community was obsessed and seized with a sudden wish to die! For Babri masjid demolition it was Shah Bano, for 2002 it was Bombay blast, for Muzaffarnagar it was the paranoia of Indian Mujahideen and other organisations and now in Delhi, the regular demonizing which started back from the triple talaq issue.

The Indian media has always targeted Muslims and painted them as enemies of the state. This time it was Tablighi Jamaat, earlier it was AAP leader Tahir Hussain and before that, it was JNU student Sharjeel Imam. It has a long history. Our lesson is to not isolate the ones who are targeted by the media. It is our duty to stand with them in unconditional solidarity. That is the only resistance we can afford.

Tahir Azmi and Ammar Aftab are final year engineering students from Aligarh Muslim University.

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