Lucknow/New Delhi: Blaming a Islamic missionary movement for spread of coronavirus, BJP MLA Suresh Tiwari has allegedly asked residents of Deoria district not to purchase vegetables from Muslim vendors. For this advice, he cited "various complaints about people of the minority community contaminating vegetable with saliva".
"Keep one thing in mind, I am telling everyone openly, no one should purchase vegetables from miyas [Muslims]," he was seen telling people, including government officials, in a video that was doing rounds on social media.
When Indian Express contacted the legislator from the district's Barhaj constituency, he said that the statement was made last week during his visit to the office of nagar palika, where several government officials were present.
"After hearing the complaints that people of a community were selling vegetables after contaminating them with saliva in an attempt to spread coronavirus disease, I advised them if they have any doubt don’t purchase from them till they are not well. After the situation gets normal then decide what they want," the MLA was quoted as saying by IE.
The legislator claimed he had given his opinion, and it was up to people to decide if they want to follow it. "Everyone can see what Jamaat members have done in the country," Tiwari said, referring to the Tablighi Jamaat, whose congregation in Delhi last month led to spurt in positive novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases.
Post the event, false news targeting Muslims began to circulate, including video clips purportedly showing congregation members spitting on authorities. The clips were quickly proven to be fake, yet by April 1, the hashtag "CoronaJihad" was trending on Twitter in India.
Politicians in Bharatiya Janata Party were quoted on TV and in newspapers describing the Jamaat incident as "corona terrorism".
Doctors who studied previous epidemics warn that stigma and blame for a contagious disease weaken trust in marginalized communities, threatening decades-long efforts against illnesses such as polio and tuberculosis by making people less likely to seek treatment.
Recently, a resident of Mumbai's suburb Mira Road was arrested after he allegedly refused to accept a package he ordered online from the Muslim delivery man.
In another incident, a 37-year-old chicken peddler was shunned by his neighbors in Bangarh, a village in the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh, for giving two members of the Jamaat congregation a ride to their village on his scooter. Neighbours accused him of deliberately trying to infect them with the virus, which causes the Covid-19. Karthikeyan Gokulachandran, the district police superintendent, blamed his suicide on stigma.
In Rajasthan, a pregnant Muslim woman was turned away from a public hospital because of her religion, resulting in the death of her 7-month-old fetus, said Vishvendra Singh, the state's tourism minister.
In Uttarakhand, Hindu youths forced Muslim fruit vendors to stop selling. Shots were fired at a mosque in Gurugram, a suburb of New Delhi, and a Muslim family in the neighboring state of Haryana was attacked by neighbors who accused them of not turning off their lights on April 9, the night Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked the country to extinguish household lights for 15 minutes in a show of national unity.
Meanwhile, reacting to Tiwari's statement, UP BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi was quoted as saying that the party does not endorse such statements. The party would take cognisance of the matter and question Tiwari about the circumstances in which he made the remarks, he added.