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The Express Tribune Editorial 21 April 2020

Scapegoating Muslims

India continues to divert attention from its incompetent handling of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic by pointing the finger at its Muslim minority. This is hardly unexpected. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already been blaming Muslims for everything that goes wrong, never mind that after almost six years in power, the buck should stop at his desk. Indian authorities have blamed the Tableeghi Jamaat for the spread of coronavirus in the country. Their argument is that the Jamaat’s convention, which was ongoing when Modi announced India’s lockdown, is to blame for the nationwide crisis. Never mind that immediately after the announcement, the Jamaat cancelled the event and began arranging to send out-of-towners back home.
But this was not enough for Modi’s goons, who say the event should have been cancelled in advance, even though the government could have easily told the Jamaat to do just that, but it didn’t, not out of respect for Muslims, but because it had its eyes closed to the risk. Now, a Jamaat member who tested negative for Covid-19 has committed suicide due to harassment by locals. Muslims are being thrashed just for being Muslim. A group of Muslims has been quarantined in Himachal Pradesh since February 25, even though quarantine should only last two weeks.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has called out the “unrelenting vicious Islamophobic campaign in India maligning Muslims for the spread of Covid-19,” along with the regular “negative profiling” of Muslims by the Indian media, and the “discrimination and violence” that they must face in the country. The group has also urged India to “stop the growing tide of Islamophobia in the country and protect the rights of its persecuted Muslim minority.” Prime Minister Imran Khan has also called out the fascistic manner in which the Modi government appears to be trying to divert attention from the roughshod manner in which it has handled its nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.
The sad thing is that Modi had an easier solution than blaming Muslims. He could have just taken the Kashmir lockdown nationwide. No communications, no human interaction, no sickness, no complaints. Unless of course, he feels subjecting BJP voters to such conditions is oppressive.


Free roti in Quetta

Many claim that the coronavirus does not discriminate, but its effects sure do. While the country maintains quarantine and social distancing, let’s not forget that the poor is suffering the most due to such measures. Daily wage earners and labourers are seen wandering about the streets in search of work but are sent back home by security officials. For those who cannot even afford three square meals a day, safety equipment like masks, gloves and sanitizers seem to be a luxury they are devoid of. The poor and destitute class is more vulnerable to the virus and everything else. This predicament has not just emerged due to the pandemic, but it has been persisting for decades in the form of class divide. What is also surprising, however, is that middle-class families living from paycheck to paycheck are also in dire need of help due to the economic slowdown.
Amid the trauma of the pandemic, citizens and rulers have set a unique example by collaborating with each together to ensure that essential resources are provided to those in need. This is happening in Balochistan where the government is providing roti in the provincial capital free of cost with the help of an NGO, named Bailul Islam. The door-to-door distribution of roti among the needy families is spread out by dividing Quetta into different zones. Apart from the deserving families registered on an online application through call centers for delivery purposes, there are many that are either ashamed of asking for help or those that are not reached. Names should be kept anonymous and the reach of locating deserving families should constantly be expanded. Such ground-level initiatives are highly commendable because they form basis for creating a response system to help take on the Herculean task of overcoming the pandemic. The federal government needs to work with provincial governments to implement such initiatives across the country.


Partial reopening


Except for the incorrigible bad souls, the entire humanity is cooperating with one another in these times of an unprecedented global pandemic. Realising the problems the common people are facing due to the month-long lockdown in urban areas, the government of Sindh has allowed partial opening of markets. Businesses in various categories are to open two days for eight hours in a week on a rotation basis. Fishermen too have been permitted to resume their activities. All these measures are aimed at easing the economic hardships of the ordinary people and small businesses. SOPs have been agreed upon after several meetings between traders’ representatives and the government.
The government’s decision is a welcome move considering the fact that the prolonged lockdown had started to tell upon the low-and middle-income groups so much so that starvation had begun to stare them in the face. By all accounts, it was a tough decision that the government had to take. The severity of the hardships facing the common people can be gauged from the fact that the decision to allow the partial opening of markets was taken on April 19 when eight Covid-19 deaths — the highest in a single day — were reported in the province. The Sindh government has taken a realistic decision after taking a holistic view of the whole situation.
People have been asked to practise social distancing and traders have been told to ensure that this and other measures prescribed in the SOPs are adhered to. Shopkeepers and customers have been asked to wear masks, and shopkeepers are to provide sanitisers at their shops. Markets where these safety measures are violated will be closed. People should also practise hygiene to protect themselves from the deadly virus. They should stop making a fool of themselves in such trying circumstances. It’s no time for debates like ‘how the elephants got its trunk.’ We all need protection from the disease; we all need food; we all need to get over economic worries.
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