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Novelist: Virus exposes 'crisis of hatred against Muslims'

April 19, 2020

The Man Booker Prize winner has said the Indian government is exploiting COVID-19 to ramp up suppression of Muslims, comparing the tactic to one used by the Nazis. The BJP rejected the claim as "false" and "misleading."

Indian novelist Arundhati Roy
Image: picture-alliance/ANSA/G. Onorati

Political activist Arundhati Roy accused the Indian government on Friday of exploiting the coronavirus outbreak to inflame tensions between Hindus and Muslims.

She told DW that this alleged strategy on the part of the Hindu nationalist government would "dovetail with this illness to create something which the world should really keep its eyes on," adding that "the situation is approaching genocidal."

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"I think what has happened is COVID-19 has exposed things about India that all of us knew," said Roy. "We are suffering, not just from COVID, but from a crisis of hatred, from a crisis of hunger."

India's 1.3 billion people are currently in the midst of a six-week nationwide lockdown. The world's second-most populous nation has so far confirmed 13,835 infections of the novel coronavirus, resulting in 452 deaths, according to figures from the Johns Hopkins Institute. It's often cited as a country where the gap between official numbers and real case numbers could be particularly high.

"This crisis of hatred against Muslims," she continued, "comes on the back of a massacre in Delhi, which was the result of people protesting against the anti-Muslim citizenship law. Under the cover of COVID-19 the government is moving to arrest young students, to fight cases against lawyers, against senior editors, against activists and intellectuals. Some of them have recently been put in jail."

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Contentious typhus comparison

Roy claimed the government was exploiting the virus in a tactic reminiscent of one used by the Nazis during the Holocaust. "The whole of the organization, the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group — Editor's note] to which Modi belongs, which is the mother ship of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party], has long said that India should be a Hindu nation. Its ideologues have likened the Muslims of India to the Jews of Germany. And if you look at the way in which they are using COVID, it was very much like typhus was used against the Jews to ghettoize them, to stigmatize them."

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Roy's theory that the pandemic has been used as an opportunity to marginalize Muslims in India has subsequently been met with opposition from supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Nalin Kohli, a BJP spokesman, told DW that he rejects Roy's viewpoint "in its totality" and that the claims are " misleading, false and completely racist."

"Not one decision or policy of Narendra Modi’s government distinguishes between Indians on the basis of religion, caste or creed but under due process of law," he stated.

Meanwhile Rakesh Sinha, a member of parliament for the BJP, tweeted that Modi's government is "free from any bias," and that the prime minister "has been tirelessly working to save Indians from Corona crisis" but that "useless idiots, like Arundhati Roy are trying to pour communal poison in public discourse."

Another BJP member tweeted that Roy "should be put on trial", adding that her accusations "amounts to sedition."

Editor's note: This story has been updated 

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John Silk Editor and writer for English news, as well as the Culture and Asia Desks.@JSilk