Christians in Tamil Nadu Targeted Over Covid Positive Doctor Burial
With the Gulf-pushback, Sangh Parivar’s merciless Muslim-bashing seem to have hit a rock. The nation-wide, intense anti-CAA agitation had come as a major setback and on its heels came the health pandemic Covid-19 from across the shores after killing many. Political leadership, busy with ahate-agenda was caught unprepared. A rudderless central government failed to enforce strict regulation of international travel; stringent screening at ports of entry; testing strategy, criteria, tools and equipment; treatment and drug protocols and the global procurement of emergency supplies.
Coronavirus started spreading across the country. The right wingers looked for a new whip to flog the Muslims. And found it in Tablighi Jamaat event held at Nizamuddin Markaz in New Delhi in mid-March wherein Muslims from across the world participated and scattered all over the country in a hurry when the Delhi government imposed a lockdown. A portion of this gathering got locked-in because of the hurried national lockdown imposed on March 24 night by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sanghis picked up this event and went for the kill against Muslims in social as well as mainstream media. This was fully facilitated by the centre’s official spokesperson who at a press conference every day made it a point to describe the ‘huge role’ played by Tablighi Jamaat in the spread of Coronavirus throughout the country.
As recently as April 18 the spokesperson declared that 4,291 of the 14,378 (30%) coronavirus cases were linked to the religious event: “We found that 84% cases in Tamil Nadu, 63% in Delhi, 79% in Telangana, 59% in Uttar Pradesh, 61% in Andhra Pradesh, 91% in Assam and 83% in Andaman and Nicobar were linked to the Tablighi Jamaat event."
This crossed lines and the backlash came. On April 19, 2020 the Muslim world sent a resounding rebuff through the Organization of Islamic States, with whom India had an excellent relationship: “OIC-IPHRC condemns the unrelenting, vicious Islamophobic campaign in India, maligning Muslims for spread of COVID-19 as well as their negative profiling in media subjecting them to discrimination and violence with impunity”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on the same day: “COVID-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking. Our response and conduct therefore should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together.” He followed it up by speaking to his counterparts in the Gulf and other parts of the Islamic world. Then Foreign Minister Jaishankar worked the wire to mount a diplomatic offensive in the Gulf Arab states to tamp-down this potential communal crisis. Nevertheless, the damage seems to have been done.
Emirati royal Hend Al Qassemi, who had earlier delivered a snub wrote an article in a Gulf Newspaper titled “I pray for an India without hate and Islamophobia.” Condemning Hindutva’s “Corona Jihad” the Emirati lady wrote: “ Killing your brethren doesn’t make you a hero, it makes you a dictator and murderer. A snowballing movement has been started, which has reverberated across the Arab world…”
This sting brought out the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat, who on April 26 asked people not to harbour ill-will against an entire community for the mistakes committed by a few individuals. He urged all people to help the affected persons without any discrimination. In his online address from Nagpur to mark Akshay Tritiya, he said: “All 130 crore Indians are our family. We are one.”
The focus since seems to have shifted to the Christian minority in Tamil Nadu now under attack.
Dr. Simon Hercules died of Coronavirus on Sunday April 19 in Chennai. The doctor, a Roman Catholic was to be buried in the Kilpauk Christian Cemetery (KCC) the next day. This Cemetery is jointly owned by the RC Church and Church of South India (CSI) and is administered by a Board comprising of members from both Churches with their respective Bishops as patrons. There is no dispute whatsoever between these two Churches.
When the hospital handed over Dr. Simon’s body for burial late in the night, as per epidemic protocol, Chennai Municipal Corporation (CMC) took charge. They decided that the burial should take place in the night itself at the CMC burial ground near KCC and the family agreed. But this became impossible because when this news reached the people in the neighbourhood of the burial ground, they objected and a crowd of about 200 resorted to dharna. Police intervention and dialogue with the protestors was in vain.
So, CMC decided to shift the venue to its other burial ground at Velangadu. By the time the ambulance with the sealed coffin reached there it was well past midnight. Yet, a crowd of about 100 people had assembled there with stones and lathis and assaulted the ambulance breaking its windshield and injuring the drivers.
This is what Dr. Pradeep, colleague of Dr Simon who had accompanied the body, said: "The JCB had dug a few feet into the ground, when 50-60 people came towards us. They began hitting us with wooden logs and throwing stones at us… The deceased's family was also not spared." With the help of drivers’ Dr Pradeep managed to get the body into the ambulance and leave the place. Later, he himself took the body back and hurriedly buried it in the Velankadu ground with police protection. These are the facts.
But the right wing took this ‘opportunity’ to spit venom against the Christian community. Accordingly VP Jayakumar, Vice President of Tamil Nadu Hindu Munnani (Front), a subsidiary of RSS, issued a press statement on April 21 , which was published in full on April 22 by ‘Organiser’, the RSS mouthpiece with the caption: “Dr Simon denied Christian burial grounds due to inter-sect rivalry; finally laid to rest in a Hindu burial ground in Chennai.” It made out an atrocious story that since the cemetery belonged to CSI Christians, they prevented the burial of Dr Simon, who was Catholic. Soon followed the bombarding through the social media with unabashed hatred against the Christian community.. There were caste slurs also in some of these postings.
Appearance of a big crowd within such short time, that too at the middle of the night with sticks and stones is intriguing. The crowd does not appear to be spontaneous particularly at Velangadu where the violence took place. Since CSI is only a microscopic minority in Chennai there may not be any of them in Velangadu. Even if there are why should they protest at all since the body was “finally laid to rest in a Hindu burial ground” (at Velangadu) as per Munnani’s own contention? It all calls for a thorough investigation.
Rt. Rev. George Anthonysamy, Archbishop of the RC Diocese of Madras-Mylapore puts the issue in proper perspective: “In this situation, the spreading of religious sociopathy and hatred among the public via social media is very distressing. Some miscreants spread the news that the priests did not care for the burial of Dr. Simon, and the violence was between the two Christian churches (RC & CSI). These are purely malicious, baseless, unfounded rumours, and are strongly condemnable. We have requested the Police Commissioner of Chennai to take appropriate action in this regard.”
Though strong cases are made out under several sections of IPC, no action has been taken against the peddlers of communal hatred and to contain this contagion. This emboldened actor and prominent BJP personality SV Shekhar to release a video spouting the same venom,calling Christians inhuman and heartless!
The price India has to pay may be very heavy!
M.G Devasahayam is former Officer of the Indian Army and Indian Administrative Service