India is safe for all Indians, across all faiths
At the dawn of the enlightenment era in Europe, traditionalists were divided into two camps. One camp believed that universal laws are unchangeable and hence they should be considered supreme. The other camp of traditionalists insisted that since god is omniscient and omnipotent, only he is supreme. This second camp had spearheaded the anti-enlightenment campaign and become anti-West and anti-modernity. The West and modernity are not the same. But traditionalists continued to reject both because they are seen as going against their belief of the omnipotence of god. Such orthodoxy can be found in eastern religions too, but they largely believe in the omnipresence of the divine. Hence, they regard universal laws to be divine also.
In the present coronavirus pandemic context, I am invoking this to highlight “God will save us” propaganda of some ill-informed religious leaders. The challenge today is not in tracking down Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, the head of the Tablighi Jamaat’s Nizamuddin Markaz. The real challenge is to encourage an unknown number of participants at the Markaz event in March who are hiding in different places, including in some mosques, to come forward. Several of them are foreigners. A number of participants at the Markaz tested positive and are undergoing treatment. But the remaining ones, who refuse to come out for voluntary testing, are a threat not only to themselves, but to the community and beyond.
Besides the misplaced orthodoxy of the omniscience and omnipotence of god and the propaganda of a conspiracy against Islam, the other factor that is preventing these participants from coming out is the stigmatisation of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). But this is misplaced. It is just a virus for which the vaccine is yet to be found.
Stigmatisation in the individual context will result in suffering for the individual. But if the stigma is extended to a community or a religion, it leads to larger consequences. Recall what happened in Italy. The initial stigmatisation of the Chinese as the carriers of the virus led to a reaction among the liberals of voluntary hugging and deliberate intermixing with the Chinese. The mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, launched a “Hug a Chinese” campaign on February 1. While there is no conclusive evidence to show that the campaign was responsible for the rise of Covid-19 in Italy, it was an ill-conceived campaign at a time when social distancing should have been the norm.