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Indian Paradox: Coronavirus and the Islamophobic Conspiracy Theory

Sidra insar Chaudhary

Sidra Insar Chaudhary

In times of corona, India is also undergoing a crisis of hatred and poverty. By now after the coronavirus lockdown, videos of thousands of migrant workers walking hundreds of kilometers to get back to their homes, or protesting on streets for food, have become a norm in India.  However, there is a third crisis taking place concurrently in India, where it was already perilous to be a Muslim, but coronavirus pandemic has made life exceedingly worse for Indian Muslim minority.

In late March Indian health authorities started speaking publicly, linking coronavirus to a Muslim annual religious gathering by a group known as Tablighi Jamaat. Members had gathered there early in March when government had not banned gatherings. Before the pandemic, the communal tensions in India were already elevated. It all started with the re-election of Modi as a second term Prime Minister.

Modi had run an ultra-Hindu nationalist campaign. First time in Indian history, the ruling party has ignored India’s largest Muslim minority of 200 million during the ticket allocation phase. Signals were clear; and soon after the victory, Modi started acting on his anti-Muslim promises. He appointed Amit Shah – the man who had called Muslims “the termites” – to lead the charge against Muslims. First came the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood status. The state was placed under federal control and the curfew that started in August has been in place to this day. Then came the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which for the first time in Indian history based the citizenship on religion. It allowed anyone but Muslims to become Indian citizens. The CAA was the boiling point for Indian Muslims, and they started protesting.

In February, the CAA protests turned into religious pogroms in capital Delhi where Hindu nationalist killed 36 Muslims and burned down countless properties. Thus when coronavirus came, BJP and Hindu nationalists didn’t take long to use it against the Muslims. Soon after the government broke the news, the Islamophobic hashtags made rounds on all the major social media networks. According to Equality Labs, a digital human rights body, there has been over 325,000 tweets under the #CoronaJihad hashtag, viewed by over 170 million people on Twitter. Many posts despite being in clear breach of twitter’s hate speech and corona virus rules haven’t been taken down.

Most of the tweets under #CoronaJihad were false and used only for propaganda.  For instance, a popular tweet claimed that Muslim man in the video is intentionally sneezing and coughing on people in Delhi. This claim was completely false. In fact, the video was from Thailand and had nothing to do with the Tablighi Jamaat. Twitter has not been able to effectively deal with this hate speech problem in India. Since the start of the first social media pandemic propaganda accounts have been able to spread Islamophobia like the virus itself.

Talk of Jihad is not new in India. This ‘corona jihad’ or ‘bio jihad’ is only the latest addition to the long list of jihad types used by the BJP followers on social media sites. Even the well-educated BJP crowd now accepts some form of jihads being true. Love jihad, for example, is the idea that Muslim men are seducing Hindu girls to fall in love with them in order to convert them to Muslim faith. Population jihad means Muslims are trying to convert their minority status to majority one by reproducing at a faster rate than Hindus. Corona Jihad is perhaps the most ridiculous form yet where nationalists falsely claim that Muslims are spreading virus to kill Hindus.

After this trend, young Muslim men providing food to poor during the lockdown have been beaten up. Muslims have been made to run from their neighborhoods, mosques have been attacked, other Muslims have been nearly lynched. There have been announcements in several places not to buy food from Muslim owned shops. Muhammed Haider, a milk shop owner, told The New York Times that “Because of corona, people now only need a small reason to lynch us or beat us.”  After the February pogroms, even the Muslim leaders are now afraid to speak up.

Indian government is also exacerbating Islamophobic culture. All centers belonging to Tablighi Jamaat have been closed. Criminal cases are being registered against Tablighi’s who attended the conference. Maulana Kandhalvi, the leader of Jamaat in India, is also now criminally prosecuted for endangering public health. Because of this targeting by the government, Muslims in India are committing suicide.


Perhaps the biggest Irony is that Hindu groups holding the similar events have faced nothing from the government but help.  Several Hindu temples remained open till 20 March and some even after that. For instance, just last week nearly 2000 Hindu worshippers stranded at Haridwar were transported in luxurious coaches. The famous Somnath Temple kept receiving 5000 visitors daily until 20th March. Only the Tablighi group is being singled out in India.

Several leaders around the world have called the Indian treatment of Muslims similar to what Nazis did to the Jews. Activist and Novelist Arundhati Roy has called the Indian government’s exploitation of Covid-19 to suppress Muslims ‘genocidal.’  It is unnerving to see other nations quietly ignoring this persecution of largest minority in India. A new dark chapter is being writing in the world’s largest democracy where after political disenfranchisement, Muslims are now being targeted economically.