Communal hatred
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This article is written by Jisha Garg, a student currently pursuing B.A.LLB (Hons.) from the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. This is an exhaustive article dealing with the issue of communal hatred during COVID-19 with special reference to the Tablighi Jamaat issue. The article highlights the loopholes in the government action and the subsequent effect of it in terms of ostracisation of Indian Muslims. The article also mentions the dangerous consequences it may have and the legal remedies available in such a case.


With the global cases of the deadly COVID-19 rising to more than 23 million, approx. 8 Lakh people dead (As of 24th August, 2020), world economy crippling and poor dying of starvation and denial of medical care due to extended lockdowns and a halt in the supply chain, communal prejudice and hatred along Hindu-Muslim lines are also on the rise. 

COVID-19 is a pandemic affecting people across borders irrespective of religion, caste and creed. It has no religion, ideology or nationality. Despite this, there is a history of demonising the usual scapegoats in society by blaming the spread of the pandemic on a particular community. From blaming the Jews for spreading the contagion called Bubonic plague in the fourteen century to discrimination against Haitians for allegedly being the carriers of AIDS in the US in the 1990s, scapegoating has been a historical phenomenon. 

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India is no exception to this phenomenon. While thousands of workers have been stranded homeless due to the sudden announcement of the lockdown on 24th March, there are others who are busily communalising the issue of the spread of the virus in India. The targets of such communal attacks have not only bore the brunt of homelessness due to the lockdown, but they have also been ostracised and stigmatised as a result of this communal behaviour across the country. In India, the issue was communalised after the congregation of Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic evangelical organisation, at their headquarters in Nizammudin in Delhi. 

The issue of Tablighi Jamaat

It all started between 13-15 March when an orthodox fundamentalist Muslim group called Tablighi Jamaat held a large international gathering at their headquarters in Nizamuddin in Delhi called Markaz which was attended by devotees from the COVID-19 hotspot countries including Indonesia and Malaysia. Although the gathering was held after due permission from the Union and the Delhi government, the place was later declared as a COVID-19 hotspot. The debate arose when similar religious and political gatherings of thousands of Sikhs in Punjab and the Hindu temples in Gujarat attracted negligible attention and the gathering at Nizamuddin got nationwide coverage. Even after the ruling BJP came to power in Madhya Pradesh, a celebratory meeting sparked a rash of infections after which many politicians and bureaucrats who attended were quarantined, failed to grab enough attention.

The Muslims across the country were accused of intentionally spreading the virus and were discriminated against across the country. Fake news began circulating showing Jamaatis intentionally spitting in the food provided to them in the quarantine, coughing into other people’s faces and streaking the vegetables with their saliva. This was followed by rumours of Jamaatis refusing to cooperate with the authorities by refusing to get tested. 

Two Jamaat members, including Dilshad Mohammad and an Assamese man, committed suicide after the incident. There was news of mobs attacking Muslims across the country including an attack on Muslim fishing in the Krishna River near Bidari village in Bagalkot district and on Muslims praying inside a mosque in the village Kadakorappa in the same district. There were instances of attacks on two other mosques in Belagavi. The lynching of a 22-year old Muslim in New Delhi and another Muslim man in Jharkhand are other such instances of communal hatred.

Loopholes in government action

On 16th March, the Delhi government banned gatherings of more than 50 people. Despite this fact, the Tablighi Jamaatis failed to empty their headquarters until 19th March for which an FIR was lodged by Delhi Police against Jamaat authorities under the Epidemics Diseases Act. This is, however, one part of the story since reports have pointed out towards another trend.

Media reports point out to the fact that the Telangana government had informed the Union Health Ministry on 18th March about the Tablighi Jamaat gathering while probing the travel histories of some of the COVID-19 positive patients. Even the Tamil Nadu government had warned the Ministry about Nizamuddin being one of the possible hotspots. 

Despite repeated reminders from various state governments, the Union government and the Delhi Government took action at a snail’s pace. It was only on 31st March, ten days after the warning, that the Union government issued an advisory to the various state governments regarding the gathering. It is, however, unclear on the part of both the Union and the state government about the steps taken by them to evacuate the thousands of Jamaatis who were stranded due to restrictions on the transport services.

Even the Delhi police faulted on taking urgent action on the “no more than 50 people gathering” rule. It was only on 24th March that the police took cognisance of the matter and arrested Markaz officials. There is no clear evidence to show what the governments did to facilitate the evacuation process as early as possible. It was only on 28th and 29th March that the process of evacuation and testing of the Jamaatis took place which is clearly indicative of the delayed government response.

Call to boycott Muslims

The Muslims across the country are not only bearing the devastating human costs of lockdown but also suffering from attacks, lynchings and calls to boycott them which are based on a flawed belief that the spread of the virus is attributed to the religiously bigoted Muslims.

Many Muslim activists, including one from the Swaraj Abhiyan, were attacked with cricket bats while distributing food to the migrant workers saying that they were Muslims and were responsible for the spread of the virus in the country. There were reports of boycotts of Muslim milk vendors from Delhi, Haldwani in Uttarakhand and Hoshiarpur in Punjab where they were forced to drain their milk into the river due to which the sellers incurred substantial economic costs. There are places in Assam and Karnataka wherein posters calling for a boycott of the Muslims, even restricting their entry into the villages have come up.

Several media outlets and social media handles were seen broadcasting propagandist material referring to it to be ‘COVID-19 Jihad’ and ‘Tablighi Virus’ which led to the subsequent subjugation of Muslims in the society. This propagation of communal agenda was even used to convince them otherwise. 

Using lockdown to arrest activists

Two student activists, Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar (both Muslims), of Jamia Millia Islamia University, were arrested by the Delhi Police for the anti-CAA protests that subsequently led to Delhi riots. The arrests were made amid the lockdown where there were strict restrictions on the movement of people and mass gatherings. The students have been arrested under harsh legal provisions, including The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA). UAPA, under Section 35, allows various investigative agencies to label individuals as terrorists. Reports of arrests of many such activists who have a history of opposing the government have surfaced across the country amid this lockdown.

The timing of such arrests by the police has raised eyebrows given the limited access to judiciary and justice in such circumstances. Even the visits to jails and courts by the lawyers have been restricted due to COVID-19. This leaves those arrested subject to the arbitrariness of the police wherein a right to a proper hearing in the courts is curtailed.'ve%20designed%20the%20course,development%20and%20management%20in%20India.

Dangerous consequences

Scapegoating and targeting a particular community amid a pandemic can have dangerous consequences for the establishment of a secure and just society. It can lead to ostracisation of the minority community, which may cause distrust amongst them. The flawed beliefs and propagandist machinery may lead to false narratives of Muslims being the potential threat to the community. As a result, the lynchings and attacks on a particular community would increase, causing a law and order situation in the society, the burden of which cannot be ensured by the people amid a pandemic.

If this continues, the Indian Muslims would feel excluded from the Indian nationhood which is against the principles of our Constitution which provides for a Secularist State. Indian Muslims would not be able to take part in a collective national effort. They will always be considered as enemies of the nation which would make their integration in the national mainstream even more difficult.

Legal analysis

Dissemination of fake news

In April 2020, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind moved the Supreme Court of India against the Media for communalising the issue with fake news. They approached the court seeking directions to the Centre to stop the dissemination of “fake news” and take strong action those responsible for it. They contended that the Tablighi Jamaat incident was used to demonise the entire Muslim community and was given a communal colour by some people. This was posing a threat to the life and liberty of Muslims infringing the Fundamental Rights under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It was put forth that such reporting is in clear violation of Rule 6 of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 which prohibits any program which contains an attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes.

Lynchings on religious lines

On the matter of legal analysis of lynchings of the people from the Muslim community, there is no specified law against mob lynchings in India. Although communal lynchings are against the freedom of religion of the victim under Article 19 of the Constitution, there is no statute in the Indian legal system to specify the penalty for the crime. Few provisions which are used to prosecute people accused of Mob Lynching owing to a lack of national legislation are Section 302 (punishment for murder), Section 307 (attempt to murder), Section 323 (punishment for voluntary causing hurt), Section 147 (punishment for rioting), Section 148 (rioting armed with a deadly weapon), Section 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of the offence committed in prosecution of an ordinary object) and Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of a common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.

Damaging places of worship

Section 295 of the I.P.C makes destruction, damage, or defilement of a place of worship or an object held sacred, with intent to insult the religion of a class of persons, punishable with imprisonment which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. This provision of the IPC can be used to prosecute those who caused the destruction of the Muslim mosques with the intent to insult their religious sentiments since the attackers believed that they were the cause of the spread of the virus in the country.


Media Scanner, a fact-checking platform, compiled a list of at least 69 fake videos against Muslims and listed at least 28 attacks prompted by online abuse. The recent events in the country are a perfect example of how minorities are scapegoated and forced to take the blame of spreading a pandemic. Even the police authorities and the administration have tried to shift their responsibility by making minorities their targets. Due to the administration’s neglect, the various legal remedies available against communalisation are proving worthless. Even the judiciary is unable to step in because of the limitations caused in the court’s proceedings due to the spread of this deadly virus.

The COVID-19 is affecting all of us and threatening our collective health, economic, social, psychological and physical wellbeing. Instead of communalising the pandemic and identifying the virus with faith or a community, there is an urgent need to work together to beat this common enemy. If it goes out of hand, it will hardly recognise faith or boundaries since all religious groups, believers or non-believers are equally vulnerable to the dangers of the virus and subsequently cause irreparable damage to the society and the nation.



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