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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 18 New Delhi, April 18, 2020

Interrogating Our ‘Poisoned’ Time

Saturday 18 April 2020, by Arup Kumar Sen

David Arnold, the eminent historian of Subaltern Studies, wrote a seminal book titled Toxic Histories: Poison and Pollution in Modern India (Cambridge University Press, South Asian Edition, 2017). He quoted Rachel Carson’s classic statement in the book- We live in ‘a new age of toxicity’. In this context, Arnold noted the emergence of a ‘toxic discourse’ and the ‘fear of a poisoned world’. In his book, Arnold, along with other issues, dealt with ‘poison panics’ and their association with “groups of real or supposed poisoners”.

A new kind of panic has been manufactured in India in our ‘poisoned’ time. This panic has distinct anti-Muslim communal overtones and is aimed at creating communal hatred. The prevailing discourses of communal hatred have got a new life in the context of spread of panic about the novel coronavirus:

In Haldwani, Muslim fruit sellers, unlike their Hindu counterparts, were forced to shut their shops by a group of people. A social media video appeared to show a Resident Welfare Association agreeing to ban Muslim vendors and workers from their gated society. In a village in Mangalore, posters came up stating that “no Muslim trader is allowed into the village till the coronavirus has completely gone away. Signed: All Hindus…” Several Muslim truck drivers were beaten up by a mob in Arunachal Pradesh. Among the many rumours about Muslims floating around, one was not to accept any cash from Muslims. ( )

Very recently, one unimaginable event happened. Reportedly, on April 4, 2020, Saharanpur Police released what it initially claimed was a list of 20 patients of COVID-19, along with their phone numbers. Later, one official clarified: “…it was a mistake on our part”. The people in the list claimed that “they have not been tested for coronavirus at all”, and a few of them claimed that “they are being targeted because of…their close links to the Tablighi Jamaat”. (See The Wire, April 10, 2020)

The above developments are direct assaults on values and rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. They also bear testimony to gross human rights violations of people belonging to the minority community, in the name of ‘social distancing’.

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