In India, the pandemic is a prize for some and punishment..

  0 comments   |     by Robert Gallimore

In India, the pandemic is a prize for some and punishment for others

BBC news recently ran a piece on the Covid-19 pandemic in India. It was a seemingly equivocal survey of the obvious problems that would manifest themselves in a country with minimal welfare provisions and the sort of sanguinity regarding mortality rates one would expect from a country whose national faith holds reincarnation as a central tenet.
On initial digestion the piece felt like a piece of sane relativism from an increasingly irrational western perspective. What was remarkable however was the central picture that accompanied the article. It depicted an Indian police sergeant beating half a dozen men and women fiercely with his lathi, or stick, as they carried out squats.
It was a horrific sight for a litany of reasons, two being: the butcherings by beating of Muslims in Delhi allegedly condoned by the police are too recent and also that the image is too reminiscent of the apartheid Sjamboks that are fatally re-emerging in South African crowd control. But the most shocking element was that the picture seemed to merit no comment from the journalist.
It appears that police brutality is now an accepted part of the Indian backdrop that deserves no reaction beyond an amused indulgence from the former imperial power who sees such vileness as acceptable.
Reliable evidence is hard to discern in India at the best of times and more so now. But anecdotally, these Covid-19 crackdowns are being prosecuted against the most depressingly predictable groups: Muslims, Dalits and far less reported, Christians.
 The naivety to expect universal standards of human rights and policing in times of global crisis is risible and we must accept a variance in the nature of the execution of lockdowns and social distancing. There are bigger fish to fry than this particular concern. But what if these in extremist measures are not being applied equilaterally? What if they are being focused on certain ethnic and religious groups? What if they are being used as a smokescreen to expedite persecutions that had germinated before the outbreak?
Well if any of this is true, we have a problem. Reliable evidence is hard to discern in India at the best of times and more so now. But anecdotally, these Covid-19 crackdowns are being prosecuted against the most depressingly predictable groups: Muslims, Dalits and far less reported, Christians.
Initial reporting however is that these fears are not only well founded but have manifest themselves in the shape of religious mob murders of the sort that had been bubbling prior to the virus outbreak which seems to be used by some as a vehicle to continue persecution, but this time with some  hogwash justification that Muslims are super transmitters of disease; in Britain, faux science and conspiracy leads to 5G masts being torn down, in India it seems to be precipitating murder. 
What is more worrying than the contemporary European comparison with 5G masts is an historical one and that is that in the early twentieth century in Europe, Typhus was known as the ‘Jewish disease.’

One hates to think what is happening in Kashmir where security lockdowns have already denied Kashmiris education and employment but one must assume such fearful times will exacerbate and extend a suffering all the more pitiful now that it will be seen as justified. We do not know any of this for sure so we reserve comment to some extent but these rumours not only follow a pattern, they may also reflect the seizing of an opportunity by certain elements to pursue communal vendettas in a crisis that demands divisions be put aside.
The Indian government has its hands full dealing with this pandemic and Hindu-Muslim tensions resulting in bloodshed are sadly not exceptional occurrences. But for a blind eye to be turned, even when justified by more pressing priorities, would imply contrivance. This is an opportunity for Modi not for bolstering Hindu nationalism but for demonstrating impartiality to India’s Muslims.

We must not judge yet but just be sure to watch and monitor, as a time of international crisis can justify extraordinary measures and there must be an international eye on whether these measures are warranted or calibrated to an agenda unrelated to public health but based on sectarianism.
We must hope for the best in people and governments but we must also be prepared for the worst and that worst, which has perhaps been kept in check for fear of international opprobrium, may be more likely to appear given its apparent endorsement from the USA, the world’s only superpower – for the moment. 
How India positions itself geopolitically in the post coronavirus landscape will be intriguing in or astride any deeper Sino-US fissure; of equal interest will be the domestic direction and distance already travelled that is revealed once we exit the current crisis. And clues to all that can be found in the speed of the lathi and the recipient of its blows.
- Robert Gallimore is a former British war veteran and a security consultant with particular expertise in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He is currently finishing his book on the Pakistan Army to be published next year

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