India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has issued a notice to one of its leaders after a video showing him asking people not to buy vegetables from Muslims surfaced amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
“Keep one thing in mind. I am telling everyone openly. There is no need to buy vegetables from ‘miyans’ [Muslims],” legislator Suresh Tiwari from Deoria town in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh was heard saying in the mobile phone video that went viral on Tuesday.
Millions in India are facing unprecedented job losses and hunger because of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, with daily wagers, vendors and small shopkeepers being severely affected.
As outrage grew, the BJP asked Tiwari why action should not be initiated against him over his call to boycott Muslim vendors.
A report in the Hindustan Times quoted Tiwari as saying his call for a boycott was “a precautionary measure to protect people from getting infected”.
“On April 18, I was distributing masks among people in Deoria when people complained that Tablighi Jamaat was spreading the infection. Many of them were worried that Muslim vendors were infecting vegetables with saliva,” he told the newspaper.
“As a responsible MLA, I asked them not to take the law into their hands to deal with situation but simply stop buying vegetables from them [Muslims]. Tell me what wrong I have done if I have said such things?”
India’s Muslims have been targeted in different areas of the country following reports of an outbreak of COVID-19 at a religious gathering in New Delhi last month that was organised by the Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary group.
India’s communal faultlines, still stressed by deadly riots in New Delhi in February over a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims, were split wide open by the allegations against the Jamaat.
Some BJP politicians and journalists were seen on TV describing the Jamaat incident as “corona terrorism” and accusing the Muslim community in general of hatching a “conspiracy” to spread the virus.
Tiwari’s call for the boycott of Muslim vendors or the community in general was not an isolated incident.
Far-right groups in India have been seen distributing saffron flags to vegetable vendors in many places to allow consumers to identify them as Hindu sellers.
Certain neighbourhoods in New Delhi and other states including Karnataka, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh also put posters to stop Muslims from entering.
Calls to ban adhan
Even mosques have been attacked, with many calling for a ban on adhan, a call to Muslim prayer.
On Tuesday, a group of men in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur district allegedly vandalised a mosque and attacked a muezzin, one who calls Muslims for prayer, when he did not stop giving adhan on a loudspeaker during the lockdown as demanded by them, local media reported.
Muezzin Abdul Rahman, 35, who suffered minor injuries in the incident, said there were only three people in the mosque as permitted by the police during the lockdown, said the report.
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan began on April 25.
‘Attach primacy to unity’
On April 18, as anti-Muslim hate campaign over the virus grew in India, the rights body of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called on New Delhi to stop Islamophobia.
The next day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a message of unity on Twitter.
“COVID-19 does not see race, religion, color, caste, creed, language or border before striking. Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, the opposition Samajwadi Party spokesman Anurag Bhadoriya said authorities should file a case against BJP leader Tiwari for calling for a boycott of the Muslim community.
“At this time of crisis, he is busy spreading hate against a particular community. This shows how much he cares about humanity,” Bhadoriya told Anadolu news agency.
A BJP spokesman from Uttar Pradesh said party leaders should avoid making such statements.
“It is wrong to speak in such a way when we are fighting against pandemic. This division is not good for the society,” Rakesh Tripathi told Anadolu.