Given an unsympathetic government, a hostile bureaucracy, a meek opposition and the blatantly biased media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s beleaguered Muslims are taking the legal route to justice and relief.
According to the Union Ministry of Health, a third of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in India have been linked to the Jamaat gathering in Delhi. As on date, India has 3981 “active cases” and 114 had died. Government blames the gathered and itinerant Jamaatis for the spike in cases in 17 states and Union Territories including Delhi. Up to 1500 persons from India and aboard who were at the Jamaat conference have been quarantined and cases have been registered against 960 foreigners who had attended the conference and preached in violation Visa conditions.
Amidst blatantly communal statements, the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray went hyperbolic and demanded that the Jamaatis should be shot and government should stop treating COVID-19 cases among them.
Also Read: Muslim bashing in India obscures critical socio-economic issue
The media jumped into the fray with delight, dubbing the Jamaat’s Nizamuddin HQ as the “epicenter” of the COVID-19 virus. The media and pro-government Hindutwa activists cast aspersions on the entire Muslim community questioning their loyalty to India. The 960 visa-violating foreigners were suspected of terrorist links.
Republic TV’s fulminations
Arnab Goswami of the pro-BJP “Republic TV” thundered: “They made fun of our national effort. They have compromised us all, we were just winning when they did everything to defeat us. They have been spreading hate against the lockdown and told their followers to do everything possible to defy the lockdown”. By “they” he meant the Muslims. According to The Print, a prominent anchor claimed that the Jamaatis were spitting from their buses, insinuating their intent to infect other people. There is an even official complaint that some hospitalized Jamaatis were walking around naked, which is very unlikely given the Jamaat’s puritanism.
Case against Times Now
According to www.livelaw.in a member of the Tablighi Jamaat, Hafeezullah Khan, has sent a legal notice to the Managing Director of Bennett Coleman and Co. Ltd.(which owns of Time of India and Times Now TV channel) seeking a compensation of INR 10 million for publishing in the Times Now website a defamatory and communal article even alleging links with terror outfits.
The article published on April 1, 2020 was titled “Tablighi Jamaat shares links with terror outfits”. It asserted that “the Tablighi Jamaat has had a long history of ties with Pakistan-based banned terror outfits like Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM)”.It further said that “the original founders of HuM, terror group known for the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in 1999, were members of Tablighi Jamaat, as per Pakistani security analysts and Indian investigators”.
“ As per WikiLeaks documents, some of the 9/11 al-Qaeda suspects detained by the US in Guantanamo Bay had stayed in the premises of the Tablighi Jamaat in Nizamuddin West, New Delhi, several years ago,” the article added.
It went on to say: “Tablighi Jamaat was also suspected to be involved in the burning of 59 Hindi Kar Sevaks in the 2002 Godhra train torching incident in Gujarat, which led to communal rioting in the state that claimed several lives”.
Rejecting all these allegations states, petitioner Hafeezullah Khan said: “The Tablighi Jamaat is an apolitical socio-religious movement working with the Muslim community across the world for increasing their awareness of basic principles of Islam and Prophetic traditions and enable Muslims to live as honest and responsible citizens of the country they live in”.
Therefore, impugned article: “is a malicious and baseless attempt to unnecessarily link the suspects to the Tablighi Jamaat without any proof of their relationship. The Tablighi Jamaat not only has no relations with any terror organization but unequivocally condemns all acts of terror across the world in the harshest possible terms”.
On the Godhra train burning, the petitioner says that there is no mention of the Jamaat in the 176-page report of the Nanavati Commission appointed to investigate the Godhra train burning incident.
Finally, the petitioner stated: “The article therefore is not only defamatory but is also designed to cause maximum damage to the reputation of our client and promotes enmity and hatred towards all members of the putting them at the risk of violence”.
The notice calls upon Bennett Coleman and Co. Ltd. to publish an unconditional apology stating that the religious organization has no links with terror outfits and to pay damages to the tune of INR 1,00,00,000/- to the client “for the horrible mental agony caused due to the publishing of the article.”
Jamait Ulama-i-Hind, an organization of Islamic scholars, has moved the Supreme Court seeking strict action against the media for communalization of the Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Delhi’s Nizamuddin.
According to www.livelaw.in the plea states that certain sections of the media have been using “communal headlines” and “bigoted statements” to demonize and blame the entire Muslim community of deliberately spreading the corona virus across the country, which has in turn threatened the lives of Muslims.
“The present petition is necessitated on account of the communal color being given to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic by certain sections of print, electronic and social media posing a threat to the life and liberty of Muslims infringing their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. The demonization is also an infringement of the right to live with dignity which is also covered under Article 21 of the Constitution.”
It is pointed out that such reporting has triggered “communal antagonism” and has also perpetrated hatred at a time when united efforts are required to fight against COVID-19.
The petition, filed through Advocate Ejaz Maqbool, stresses that the government, particularly the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, has failed in its duty to give equal protection of the law to all persons in India under Article 14 of the Constitution by allowing the media to present facts in a twisted manner, using phrases that are prejudicial to the Muslim community.
The petition states that the media has violated all norms of journalistic conduct by resorting to such “dog whistle tactics” of targeting Muslims.
“Furthermore, such reporting is in clear violation of Rule 6 of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 which prohibits any program which contains attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes.”
“Actions of certain sections of the media are also against the letter and spirit of the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards issued by the New Broadcasters Association, which is the regulatory body for news channel. Under the Code, ensuring neutrality and objectivity in reporting is one of the foremost principles of media regulation,” the plea points out. (South Asian Monitor)