Do not allow fissures to deepen: Retd. civil servants write to CMs

Muslim pilgrims wait in bus that will take them to a quarantine facility (AP/Manish Swarup)

Dear Chief Minister/Lt. Governor,

We are a group of former civil servants belonging to the All-India and Central Services, from all over India. As a group, we do not subscribe to any particular political ideology but rather focus on issues that have a bearing upon the Indian Constitution. We have been holding Conclaves and writing Open Letters on matters of concern since we came together as the Constitutional Conduct Group in June 2017.

It is with much anguish that we bring to your attention reports of harassment of Muslims in some parts of the country, particularly following the meeting of the Tablighi Jamaat in March in the Nizamuddin area of New Delhi.

The Jamaat was criticised for ignoring the principles of social distancing when cases of COVID-19 had started emerging in the country. Although this was hardly the only incident of such gatherings, both political and religious, sections of the media hastened to give a communal colour to COVID-19, including attributing motives to the Tablighi Jamaat in spreading the virus to different parts of the country. The action of the Jamaat in organising such an event, ignoring the Delhi Government's advisories was, without question, misguided and condemnable. However, the action of the media in communalizing it and extending it to the Muslim community as a whole is utterly irresponsible and reprehensible.

Such coverage has fuelled hostility towards the Muslim community in parts of the country. Fake video clips have been doing the rounds showing Muslim vendors spitting on the fruits and vegetables that they have for sale – purportedly to spread the Covid-19 disease. Cases have been reported of vegetable vendors being asked their religion, even being assaulted when they mention Muslim names. Video recordings of such incidents are circulating through social media at this time. The fear and insecurity generated by the pandemic is sought to be channelled into the “othering” of the Muslim community in different places to keep them out of public spaces, purportedly to protect the rest of the population!

There are reports from Hoshiarpur that Muslim Gujjars who traditionally migrate from Punjab to Himachal Pradesh with their cattle were denied entry at the border by the police due to apprehension of tension created by mobs on the other side to prevent their entry. Photographs of men, women and children forced to take shelter on the banks of the Swan river, where hundreds of litres of milk had to be dumped following this blockade, have appeared. Photos from a market in Biharsharif, Nalanda district, Bihar, show pictures of flags being affixed to the carts of non-Muslim vendors with exhortations that buyers should only purchase produce from such carts. These seemingly isolated incidents appear to be building up to an ostracism of Muslims.

More disturbingly, reports of discrimination are also coming in from various places about Muslims being turned away from hospitals and health facilities. It is reported that on 8th April, Fauzia Shaheen, a weaver from the Muslim-dominated area of Madanpura in Varanasi, who was experiencing labour pains, was repeatedly turned away from clinics and hospitals including from the Sir Sunderlal Hospital at the Banaras Hindu University, even after she delivered a baby outside the hospital. Following an outcry in the social media, police registered a case against the management of a cancer hospital in Meerut that had put out an advertisement saying that it would treat Muslims only when they produce a report showing that they have tested negative for coronavirus. In Ahmedabad, we learn that separate wards have been designated for Muslim patients of Coronavirus.

In addition, there are reports of the special entitlements of rations and cash that governments have sanctioned at this time being denied to Muslim families.

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.

We should remember that traditionally India has maintained good relations with Muslim nations and has been seen as their friend. Millions of our fellow citizens live and work in these countries. There has been serious concern expressed in these countries about the recent developments. We should ensure, through our non-discriminatory action and relief measures, that the minorities have nothing to fear in India. This will help assuage the misgivings of these countries and avoid any consequential detriment to the prospects of the sizable Indian diaspora there.

We call upon you to reassure all the people in your State that by following the instructions for social distancing and the practices regarding using face covering and hand washing, they can keep safe from COVID-19. It needs to be emphasized that there is no truth whatsoever in the rumours that any particular group has more infections than others in our country. Incidents like the one in Karnataka, where three Hindu youth created panic at a police check post in Mandya district on 8th April by posing as Muslims with Coronavirus infection, need to be dealt with firmly, as was done in this case by the Karnataka police.

We request you to instruct all public functionaries to be particularly vigilant to prevent social boycott of any community in the State and to ensure that all the entitlements including medical and hospital care, rations and financial assistance are available equally to all those in need.

At this time of grave national and international crisis, we count on your leadership in bringing the people of India together rather than allowing the deepening of fissures in our country.

SATYAMEVA JAYATE

Yours faithfully,

Constitutional Conduct Group (101 signatories, as below)

First published in The Citizen