By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
Colombo, April 22: While meeting the extraordinary medical emergency created by the COVID-19 pandemic, nations, political leaders, ethno-religious groups and even families are cynically using the crisis to pursue their pre-existing divisive agendas.
It is as if the medical emergency is a godsend for the combatants, opening up a new avenue to help them reach their partisan goals. While the medical situation calls for unity and cooperation to rid the world of the elusive and deadly virus, what one sees is its cynical use to reach a narrow end.
Trump’s Electoral Agenda
US President Donald Trump is unabashedly using the crisis to neutralize his potential Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. On his part, Biden has been trying to ruin Trump’s chances by ripping him apart on the callous handling of the viral invasion.
Trump claims that China is pitching for Biden’s Presidential candidature. “But if sleepy Joe Biden wins, China will own the United States,” Trump warned. He kept repeating that China had deliberately hidden the COVID-19 threat when it emerged for the first time in Wuhan in December 2019. Trump went on to warn Beijing of “resounding consequences” if it was “knowingly responsible” for the global spread of the coronavirus.
In a bid to project a macho American nationalist image, Trump threatened to stop funding WHO after accusing it of being hand in glove with Beijing in the latter’s initial cover-up bid. He had earlier taken the US out of the UNHRC saying that it was biased.
The India-China conflict continues with COVID-19 as the setting. Last week, New Delhi passed an order which will affect future Chinese direct investment in India through the takeover of Indian companies which might be in dire financial straits because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rule is couched in general terms, without naming any country. It says that FDIs from countries “sharing a land border with India” will have to have the Indian government’s sanction first. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal will not be taking over Indian companies but China can.
In a more brazen way an Indian lawyer Ashish Sohony of Mumbai has filed a case in the International Criminal Court (ICC) seeking US$ 2.5 trillion from China as compensation to India for the damage done through COVID-19.
The Hindu-Muslim conflict in India has found a new battle ground in COVID-19. There is an orchestrated demand for the prosecution of the Tablighi Jamaat’s leader, Muhammad Saad Kandhalvi, for organizing a massive conference in Delhi in mid-March, with over 6000 participants from India and abroad, and then allowing the participants to go to other parts of India to preach. With hundreds of them turning out to be COVID-19 carriers, the media dubbed the conference as the “epicenter” of COVID-19. Its leader Kandhavi is going to be charged for “culpable homicide”.
But Muslims consider this unwarranted. The government had permitted the conference and given visas to the foreign participants when the virus threat was very much there. When the lockdown was suddenly declared, the participants were trapped. It is also pointed out that the Hindus had publicly celebrated Ram Navami flouting all the lockdown rules but the government and the media turned a blind eye to that. A government hospital in Gujarat had set up separate wards for Muslims and Hindus profiling Muslims as carriers of the virus.
Communal Divide in Lanka
Decisions associated with the containment of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka have triggered Sinhala-Buddhist communal tension. The
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem pointed out in a statement that the “exit strategy” presented by the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had racially profiled Muslims by earmarking Muslims as potential carriers of the virus. “Muslim populations” were listed as one of the variables.
Hakeem said: “It ought to be noted that this report is a text-book example of racial profiling and cultural stereotyping of a minority community, stigmatizing and marginalizing it for no apparent reason. This is, by all means a part of the ongoing malicious practice of resorting to a psychological and modern racist discourse. The ethno-religious prejudice and frequent below-the-surface racial profiling practices such as these are often internalized by the non-discerning eye of the innocent masses as plain ‘truths’ presented to them. Such subtexts contribute towards institutionalization of cultural and social marginalization of a minority community. It is a form of social injustice and structural violence which is reprehensible.”
“This report had already been circulated in its original form to many. I too am in possession of it. So are many others. We urge the Government to out rightly reject this report. The Government must also reverse its overall unjust and biased practices towards the Muslims and other ethnic minority groups and religions in the pretext of controlling COVID-19. We are Sri Lankans, and we implore the Government to treat us as equal citizens and stop undermining people’s trust in the Government, thereby wedging deep rifts in the minds of the common masses by stigmatizing the Muslims,” Hakeem said.
However, the President’s Media Division said that the President need not pronounce his views on the suggestions or remarks of the GMOA as it is only a trade union. It has a right to air its views, as others have, but the government is not bound to take its advice.
Earlier, there was a controversy over the decision that dead COVID-19 patients would be cremated and not buried on public health grounds. The Muslims objected vociferously on the grounds that cremation is not allowed in Islam. The matter was dropped after government gave the medical and environmental reasons for ordering a ban on the burial of COVID-19 infected bodies.
In many countries, the lockdown has led to the re-assertion of the traditional male domination in families and parents’ oppression of their children.
Due to the long-period of confinement in homes, wife beating has increased, the UN reports. In China, constant interaction between couples over a long period of time has led to a spike in divorce proceedings.
Ananda Galapatti, writing in medium.com, quotes Savithri Wijesekara, Executive Director of Women In Need (WIN) as saying that “between 16th March and 1st April 2020, WIN received approximately 250 calls of which 60% related to domestic violence.” The Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority, Prof. Muditha Vidanapathirana, said that 127 of the 307 complaints received from the 16th of March to 9th April, related to child cruelty.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, US Women Executive Director observed that what is happening in homes now is a “shadow pandemic”. In a statement she said: “ Confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health, and money worries. And it is increasing isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can best help them. It is a shadow pandemic”
In India, two lawyers have written to the Supreme Court Chief Justice S.A. Bobde requesting him to take suo motu (on his own) cognizance of increase in the number of child abuse cases during the ongoing all-India lockdown.
“Helpline has received more than 92,000 calls asking for protection of children from abuse and violence in the past few days during the lockdown period,” the letter said.