Why many Indians believe Muslims spread COVID-19

Wazukhaana in front of Fatehpuri Masjid, a Sufi mosque in northern Delhi, in 2015.

Here’s an analogy. If people are standing in line, and a brown person shoves a white person, it would be incorrect of the white person to conclude that brown people have no manners. I think most Indians understand this. So when we Indians stand in line and a Muslim person shoves a Hindu person, it would be incorrect of the Hindu to conclude that Muslim people have no manners (especially when all of us have seen how our fellow Indians cut lines, everywhere, even when there’s assigned and assured seating, as when boarding a flight).

What prompted this was a conversation I had recently with an old friend, in which Muslims as a whole were being held responsible for one Hindu (said friend) getting shoved while waiting in line at a store, at a time when everyone is supposed to stay 6 feet apart. The friend started to say something about “these people”, so I felt compelled to point out to them that just the previous day, I had to tell a Hindu fellow shopper blocking a narrow aisle in the grocery store to cover her nose and mouth with her mask. Her mask was hanging around her neck like a necklace, and she made no attempt to put it on or to give way when I indicated that I needed to pass her. She had already breathed over who knows how many products, leaving germs all over the place. I told my friend that the definitely-Hindu cashier had no mask either. Everyone knows that this sort of behavior is currently punishable.

A word about Hindus, Muslims, and cleanliness. People who have researched sanitation in South Asia have found that in general, personal hygiene levels in predominantly Hindu India are lower than in the predominantly Muslim neighboring countries of Bangladesh and Pakistan. They surmise that this may be directly related to the fact that Islam has clear prescriptions pertaining to personal hygiene, which are daily rituals. In contrast, they note, Hinduism has none (or no clear and effective ones that are widely taught and practised, at any rate).

And yet our fascist government/media/social circles have brainwashed us into racist thinking by repeatedly portraying Muslims in particular as vectors of Covid-19 (for example, see thisthisthis, and after the Delhi government’s own complicity, this). And sadly, even those of us who sincerely believe we are good, smart, sensible, righteous, reasonable, and not-evil take up such racist thinking and let ourselves become pawns in the politics of hate. We slip into believing greater lies like “Muslims are destroying this country”. Many of us vote for leaders based on the racist belief that we have chosen to embrace, instead of voting in the interest of ourselves and our fellow citizens.

(Photo credit: Uma Asher / Medium)

The pandemic of desperate poverty: A Third-World view of the Covid-19 lockdown

The other day I saw a beggar who did not know how to beg. I was in my local market in an unfashionable middle-class Delhi neighborhood. As I was loading my grocery purchases in my car near a tiny supermarket, I heard a tentative “Madamji”. That’s when I noticed the man sitting on the curb in the desolate street. 

He asked softly if I could give him some food. He sounded so hesitant and tentative that I got the sense that he was new at this. I asked him whether he wanted food to cook or food that was ready to eat. My mind was racing and I thought that if he had nowhere to cook, I would give him bread and cheese, although that would certainly not be a traditional meal for him. He said he could cook. I asked where he lived, and he said in a shanty nearby. Was his family here or back in his village? He said they were all here.

I went back into the store and bought him two kilos of rice and a packet of soy nuggets. I explained how to cook the soy. He broke down, thanking me profusely and wishing me a lifetime of blessings. He broke down because I had bought Rs 300 (about $4) worth of food for his family.

On my previous grocery-shopping round too, a disabled boy in ragged clothes had approached me, begging for flour and rice. I bought him a couple of oranges, which he accepted, but he repeated his entreaty for flour and rice. I enquired how he would cook them, and he eagerly assured me he had a home. I asked where, and he named a nearby neighborhood that people like me politely describe as “low-income”. 

The reality is that such neighborhoods are home to people who are oppressed because of their caste, faith or gender. Many of these people are dirt-poor and earn precarious livelihoods. I bought the child two kilos each of flour and rice. I thought maybe people in his family have lost their livelihoods in the lockdown. 

My friends say they are glad I was there for these starving people. The fact is: I was there that day. A week or two weeks later, I cannot be sure they are okay. I cannot imagine the terror of the ongoing lockdown – is it a colonial hangover that we’re using the word “curfew” interchangeably? – for people who used to earn a living, no matter how humble, and who now have to beg.

Often, we hear middle-class Indians urging others not to give anything to beggars, because they’re part of a “begging racket”, implying that begging is organized crime. And yet, nobody has ever come across evidence of such a racket. Even people who have studied the lives of beggars say they have heard of no such thing. So why do we choose to believe that begging rackets exist, and that what is right in front of our eyes is not actual desperation?

In India’s version of the Covid-19 pandemic, hunger is as much of a tragedy as the disease itself, even in a relatively well-administered city like Delhi. Among the hardest hit are migrant daily wage earners, unemployed people, and the homeless. This video, shot on April 18 in Delhi, shows people waiting for food in a two-kilometer-long queue in the scorching sun:

State and local governments, faith groups, volunteer groups, and non-profits are trying to provide food to such people. But 26 days into India’s lockdown, it is obvious that many are still falling through the cracks. Stories about attacks on, and deaths of, the poor are surfacing with increasing frequency.

For example, 29-year-old Gangamma, a migrant construction worker, was forced to leave Bangalore when work came to a halt. After walking 300 kilometers, she died of hunger on her way home to Raichur. Mukesh, a house painter in his early thirties, in Gurgaon, near Delhi, sold his cellphone for Rs 2,500 ($33) to buy flour, sugar, rice, and a fan for his four children so that they could sleep comfortably in the rising heat – and then ended his life. His neighbors pitched in for his last rites, because his family had no money. Sudarshan Rasal, a 49-year-old taxi driver in Mumbai, died of acute respiratory distress after being turned away by eight hospitals. Despite coming from a locality officially declared a Covid-19 hotspot, Rasal remained undiagnosed, because doctors cannot take a swab from a dead man. 

The image below, of a starving man, was taken near the Yamuna river in North Delhi on April 15, by Sunil Kumar Aledia, whose Facebook profile identifies him as convenor of the National Forum for Homeless Housing Rights:

Aledia also took this picture of hungry men rummaging through rotting bananas dumped in the Yamuna:

There are two parallel Indias at the best of times, but the Covid-19 pandemic is making it harder and harder to avoid what we pretend not to see most of the time. One India is missing its maids and drivers, virtue-signaling about paying them through the lockdown, rediscovering the kitchen, and cheerfully taking on the challenge of trying to recreate from its limited pantry the taste of that amazing crepe they had that one time at that tiny creperie in Paris. The other India is trying desperately not to die.

Tomorrow I plan to go out to buy essentials. I don’t expect to find the coffee filters or vanilla extract that I “need”. But I think I’ll be okay. 

New Delhi, April 20, 2020

(Video credit: YouTube/ Scroll) (Photo Credit: Facebook / Sunil Kumar Aledia)

Attack on Democracy: CAA and NCR expose the hypocrisy of Modi and the BJP Government

The BJP and Narendra Modi have been feeding the message to the Indian public that Modi is the “God” saving the persecuted Hindus in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Since December 19, 2019, Twitter feeds have been filled with responses to Citizenship Amendment Act protests, some calling CAA a lease on life for Hindu and other minorities in Pakistan, while others decrying it as a giant paw trampling India’s secular democratic constitution. The Modi government’s cunning launch of CAA with the National Citizenship Registry needs to be seen within the larger picture of heartless right wing governments wielding heartless policies that deny justice to minorities, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, as well as promote policies that don’t mitigate climate change and global warming. 

Why is the CAA undemocratic? The BJP government argues that CAA secures India from Islamists. In selecting who is the “good’ foreigner and who is not, the BJP is creating a false dichotomy, and selectively eliminating citizens on account of their religion. Is it any wonder that Muslim citizens feel targeted and unsafe? Moreover, the lack of serious accountability by Modi after the Gujarat pogrom has deeply scarred not just Muslims as it has left many Indians questioning the policies of the Modi government that is driven by its Hindutva ideology equating Hindu and India. One need not watch videos of the protests to know that Muslims are bracing under the crosshairs of right wing groups. The echoes of Nazi Germany’s “Aryan nation” are loud and clear in the current context. 

A common theme of all the heartless right wing leaders: Elimination. The Modi government’s National Citizenship Registry came at the heels of the CAA. These together with the speeches made by different BJP politicians spread a climate of fear. Upon seeing anti-CAA protests, Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs, came on mainstream radio and announced that drones will surveil every protest site. After the protest at Aligarh Muslim University, Modi said the videos clearly show who the protesters are, since they were wearing Muslim caps. These statements instigate fear and retaliation which result in protests, police brutality and loss of life. Witness the police brutality against students and professors at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia University. As Mukul Kesavan writes, “The Delhi police made an example of Jamia as a warning to India’s Muslims. When that didn’t go according to plan, the same police travelled several miles across the city to help make an example of a university that the BJP sees as the institutional incarnation of the secularism that might yet thwart its dreams of a Hindu nation”.

The Assam Accord signed in 1966 and amended in 1971 after the Bangladesh war, states that the refugees, both Hindu and Muslim, from the war who came into Assam between 1966 and 1971 should go back to Bangladesh. The Modi government extended the cut-off date to 2014 in order to increase its vote bank. According to the Assam Accord, a sizable number who were illegal Hindu who did not go back to Bangladesh after 1971 (since they did not feel secure in Bangladesh) would be considered illegal. Since the BJP ideology equates Hindu with Hindu nation, they devised CAA to provide a point of entry for these Hindus. Obviously, the Modi government could not have a policy for just Assam; so when CAA was applied to the whole country it showed the BJP government’s hypocrisy. The National Citizenship Registry and CAA together expose major flaws:

  1. India became a secular republic after 1947. The British mandate of partition based on religious separation of India into India and Pakistan resulted in tremendous bloodshed. The current CAA is following this old historic British thinking and is creating fear among Muslims about their security. 
  2. How can a secular democracy declare selective rescue of the persecuted and not include Muslims? This pits Muslims against other groups.
  3. If the BJP bleeding hearts feel for the persecuted minorities in Muslim countries, why aren’t they including persecuted Muslims across the world to come into the country and claim citizenship? Why is the BJP engaging in a double speak where they are welcoming persecuted Hindus and at the same time saying the country cannot carry a large influx of migrants?
  4. Both CAA and NCR show BJP’s brand of “cultural nationalism.” As Sadanand Menon writes, “Its cunning agenda is to evacuate all ideas of political rights from the idea of a nation state and transplant in its place ideas of cultural rights.”

We can find some reprieve in the protest marches across the country. Although Amit Shah is insisting that CAA and National Citizenship Registry are not related, we know that both these policies worked contiguously in Assam to “select” the Muslims who immigrated there post 1971 and put them in detention centers since they could not prove that they are Indian citizens. People are highly alert that this template will be used for the rest of India. Hindus who are in the detention centers will obviously hope for the CAA to rescue them, so they can go back to their lives. This selectivity clearly shows the chaos created by the Modi government as a result of its harmful ideology. Not only is it undermining the values of Hinduism but it is showing the worst kind of human rights abuses that can happen when ideology and country are equated.

(Photo Credit: Anushree Fadnavis / Reuters / The Wire)

Where is the global outrage: #FreeKashmir #StandWithKashmir

(Photo Credit: Times of India)

Where is the global outrage: #StandWithJNU

JNU Students Union President Aishe Ghosh after being assaulted by masked assailants

(Image Credit: Satracomics / Facebook) (Photo Credit: Vipin Kumar / Hindustan Times)

We will resist: India rejects CAA

(Credit: Feminism in India / Instagram: Creatives Against CAA)

Sunday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers: We know

A factory fire broke out Sunday, December 8, 2019, in a factory that produced school bags, purses, and toys, in the Anaj Mandi neighborhood, in New Delhi. At least 43 workers were killedA factory fire broke out Saturday, July 13, 2019, in a hardware factory in the Jhilmil industrial area, in New Delhi. “Only” three workers were killed.  A factory fire broke out Saturday, January 20, 2018, in a gunpowder factory in the Bawana Industrial area, in New Delhi. Seventeen workers were killed. Every time, government officials proclaim their sadness. Every time, the media describes the “tragedy”, interviews relatives weeping at the morgue and the hospital. Every time, explanations, alibis, “explain” what happened. Narrow streets. Inaccessible spaces. Every time … That fire was a planned massacre. The building was a death trap waiting to explode, the workers, mostly migrant Muslim from Bihar, were slated for the sacrificial burning. As one witness explained, speaking of the workers, “Their only fault was they were poor.” He paused and then concluded that the workers’ lives were “a bigger tragedy than their death.” What is tragedy in this world?

We know what happened Sunday: the factory was illegal; the building far exceeded height limitations of the area; of 18 rooms in the building, 15 are rented out to different entities running illegal factories, and, of course, there are no leases or any other documents; there was never any police verification of anything, as there should have been; the building was packed, in violation of city rules, with hazardous and inflammable items; goods blocked one emergency exit, which was locked from the outside; the other exit was impassible thanks to packages piled up in front of it; other exits were locked from the outside; windows were barred and could not be opened; firefighters had to break down the outer gate and then the doors to get in. We know.

We know that the workers lived and slept in the factory itself, because their wages were so low that that’s what they could afford; that almost all the workers asleep on the third floor died, slowly and painfully, of suffocation, many of them on their phones, calling loved ones, friends, pleading for help, saying farewell. We know.

We know that now people will be investigated, arrested, even convicted; that the workers in the other illegal factories in other illegal buildings in the Anaj Mandi neighborhood are afraid that they will lose their jobs. Anaj Mandi has become “interesting”. We know this. This is modern urban and national political economic development. We know.

We do not know if we will remember this particular fire a week from now, a month or year from now. Maybe. Maybe not. But we know another factory is waiting to explode, and when it does, the Great Men will intone tragedy this and sorrow that. Tell them to stop. Tell them, we know. We know. 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / AP / Dinesh Joshi)

Hope lies here, in the roots of this our land

Hope lies here, in the roots of this our land. 

Last night two activists spent the night with me. They have been beaten by police, fabricated cases filed on them, jailed, their colleagues killed by so called Maoist ultras funded by Coal companies, police fired on their people killing three etc etc

They asked me:
“Brother What is happening in England regarding democracy?”. “Whats happened in our Amazon with our Adivasi relatives” 

The conversation then went to the Indian economy.
They already knew about the loot of RBI reserve funds and unemployment surge.
-The other WhatsUp University guys.

Then one of them said
“What ever is to happen, it cannot be worse than what we and our people have gone through ever since our birth.”
“We are ready/prepared, we will fight, jail is a better place, at least we get food and will not be hungry” 
“We are not Chintabarams or Vijay Malayas” they said.

Both were off to a workshop on the Indian Constitution, both had copies of it! (funny I do not)
Both are Dalit farmers fathers of school going children.

Hearing them I can say there is hope for India!

(Image Credit: Adam Jones / Open Democracy)

Where is the global outrage at the destruction of Kashmir and the assault on Kashmiri women?

August 14, 2019: Women in Kashmir protest

“There is a long row of women, who have given birth in the midst of destruction, their babies, a new generation, are tied securely to their bodies with a duppatta. I see them as they walk, slowly, cautiously, confidently, across the broken embankment, past seething waters, to the safety of their community and their people. Once more, they shine.”

Freny Manecksha. Behold, I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children

In early August, the Indian state suspended Article 370 of India’s Constitution. Article 370 gave special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This special status included a separate constitution and administrative autonomy. In suspending the Article, and effectively India’s Constitution, Narendra Modi offered economic development and his version of a War on (Islamic) Terror as justification. The lynchpin of this claim was the protection of Kashmiri Muslim women. In this scenario, Modi is the great liberator savior of Indian Muslim women. Kashmiri women know better: “Who will liberate us? The BJP leaders who are saying men in UP or Haryana (where the sex ratio is low) can now source fair brides from Kashmir? Are we apples or peaches of Kashmir — goods to be looted by our conquerors?” The women of Kashmir are accustomed to these claims of liberation, empowerment, freedom, and have consistently rejected them as false and empty. For decades, and centuries, women of Kashmir have organized to dispel the night and fog of various modes of patriarchal sexual violence against women and girls. 

Since the declaration, India’s Prime Minister has continued to claim that the erasure of semi-autonomous Kashmir  is part of the program of women’s liberation, which begins with `protecting’ Indian Muslim women … from themselves. Since the declaration, Indian social media has recorded public officials and just plain menfolk boastingthat now they can go to Kashmir and pick up “fair Kashmiri women” as wives. 

Kashmiri women know better. They know that “protection” means intensified occupationunparalleled communications and information blackoutsramped up harassment of women and girls. They know that protection means the most vulnerable, such as women in childbirth, will be the most exposed to violence and danger. They know that armies that march under the banner, “Save Muslim Women!”, are never to be trusted. They know this, and their knowledge of such has been well documented again and again and again.

Despite the documentation of Kashmiri women’s decades and centuries long histories of self-organizing, the world more or less stands by and watches the new phase of protective torture of women and girls with a muffled cough of disapproval. Where is the global outrage at the intensified assault on Kashmir, and particularly on Kashmiri women? Where are the mass demonstrations in support, the teach-ins, the calls to action, other than polite invocations of solidarity? Where are the comrades, the militants, the feminists? Where is Kashmir? Nowhere. Who are the women of Kashmir? As far as the world at large is concerned, no one. Less than no one. Poor blighted beings in need of salvation. “But, hell, let’s just ‘Save Muslim Women’!”

(Photo Credit: Al Jazeera / Reuters / Danish Ismail)

Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers

The fire that killed three workers

A factory fire broke out Saturday, July 13, in a hardware factory in the Jhilmil industrial area, in New Delhi. Three workers were killed: Manju Devi, 50 years old, mother of five; Sangeeta Devi, 46 years old, mother of three; Shoaib Ali, 19 years old, one of two children. The Jhilmil industrial area is 20 some miles from the Bawana Industrial Area, where a fire broke out January 2018 in a firecracker factory. An hour by car, more or less, separates the two factory zones. A year and a half separate the two fires. In that year and a half, absolutely nothing has been done to ameliorate the conditions of factory workers in New Delhi. As was the case in Bawana, Saturday’s factory fine in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers, the majority of whom were women.

For a couple days there was news coverage. The two brothers who owned the factory have been arrested. The factory license had expired and so the factory had no license. The factory had no “firefighting measures.” The fire was massive, the brothers were negligent. The stories of each of the three murdered workers are plaintive and heart rending. In other words, this “tragedy” is precisely like the earlier “tragedies”. Add the Jhilmil industrial area to the list of factory fire “tragedies”: Bawana Industrial Area,India: Tangerang, Indonesia;  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, United States; Kader Toy Factory, Thailand; Zhili Handicraft Factory, China; Tazreen Fashions Factory, Bangladesh; Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, Philippines; House Technologies Industries, Philippines. The sacrificial pyre built of women’s bodies continues to grow and light up the night sky of global economic development. 

The Jhilmil factory had no license because it didn’t have to have a license: “The factory was operating in the area of 110 sq metres and a fire NoC [No objection Certificate] is not required for the area below 250 sq metre as per norms.” According to some estimates, “around 90% of units in industrial areas of Delhi lack fire safety norms.” Some of those factories are in violation of the law, but the vast majority aren’t. They are “per norms”. That is, respectively, they comprise individual areas of less than 250 square meters, and so don’t need any license. The majority of factories in New Delhi’s industrial zones are less than 250 square meters in area. Per norms. That’s the law. That’s how it is. Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers, the majority of whom were women, and the planners of that massacre are factory owners, the State, and all who looked the other way, or better, see and construct a world “per norms” in which people who work in larger factories have some value, are collectively worth the cost of a fire extinguisher and an alarm, and those, the majority, who work in the smaller factories, the `informal’ factories, they are less than dirt, less than the ash that fills the air and covers the earth after a massive fire. Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers, the majority of whom were women. It won’t be the last such massacre.

(Photo Credit: The Hindu / R. V. Moorthy)