Corona Virus

Death in the slum: India holds its breath; world gasps

(This is a reprint from NewsBred)

India panicked. The world broke into a sweat. A man had died in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, to the ever-so growing shadow of killer Corona Virus pandemic last week.

No, he isn’t the only victim India has had in the past few weeks. Nor was he a celebrity or a billionaire.  Indeed, he was just a garment seller. But he happened to live in one of Asia’s biggest slums, Dharavi, which houses one million people in a little over two square kilometer land. Lives are packed like stacked hay. And we know hay fires break out without even a spark—just being baled and moist is enough.

In no time a team of doctors and volunteers swooped on to the area. Cops were in tow. They fanned out and stayed till midnight. Family was isolated. Some 2,500 neighbours were stamped for quarantine. The deceased’s movement of last two weeks was retraced with the help of his people. A list of his acquaintances was mapped and alerted. His shop, and some 100 others, including the nearby 330 flats were put under barriers.  Common spaces between the buildings were sprayed. A posse of policemen now guarded the area to enforce no violation.

The world watched. It’s fears found a shape in headlines.  Dharavi is not unknown to humanity. Thanks to power of Hollywood, Dharavi was made famous through Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2009. It topped the worldwide box office. Best-ever grosser for Fox Searchlight Pictures. “Visually dazzling and emotionally resonant” was the consensus on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie celebrated human spirit through the eyes of a child, growing up amidst faeces, open sewers, violence and murder.

The Unknown Dharavi

The world knows little more on Dharavi. Not just the world, even Indians don’t know that half of Mumbai’s waste is recycled in Dharavi. That everyone has a roof over his head, there is no homelessness. Nor any caste, creed or religious divides. Mosques, temples, churches share boundaries. Dharavi just accepts everyone; and supplies the sprawling Mumbai its faceless workers and helpers.This gritty humanity, and its small factories, pottery, plastic, textile, bakery industries etc, generate an annual turnover of $1 billion, 30% of which is paid as taxes. A 600 sq feet apartment costs half a million dollars in Dharavi! It’s in demand.

It’s not to say that Dharavi is not potentially explosive in the light of Corona Virus. It has a long history of epidemics. It was devastated in a 1896 plague which killed half of Mumbai’s population.  Other epidemics gripped it for next quarter of a century. Mortality was high. Dysentery, cholera, typhoid, leprosy, polio have made lives fall like flies. IN 1986, a cholera epidemic showed up most of its victims hailing from Dharavi. It has a poor-protection record: Those who survive viruses, are often consumed by fires and floods which are recurrent.

India girds up loins for challenge

Thus anxiety of the Indian officials is understandable.  It has counted the elders in the locality and put them under extensive testing. Fortunately, the country is now equipped with antibody blood tests which take only 15-30 minutes. India has an Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) for a decade and half now. It’s data allows health authorities to scan cases from Public Health Care (PHC) level upwards. It can spot clusters of a community outbreak of diseases. It’s following a geographical quarantine strategy. Movements, to and from, is interrupted in such clusters. Testing is ramped up. So is surveillance. Environment, heat and humidity, is factored in.

Indian authorities, for the moment, have identified around a dozen hot-spots. Dharavi is not one of them. Fortunately, cases have increased in Dharavi since. Mumbai, and Maharashtra, continue to be the most worried state in India. Officials are doing whatever best they could. A Containment Officer (CO) is co-ordinating with the police, the municipality and healthcare workers to ensure residents get essential supplies of food, milk, water and medicine round the clock.

Dharavi isn’t used to world’s concerns. Even “Slumdog Millionaire” had just a couple of shoots from within. It’s used to keeping homes and roads clean; water supply and essentials running of 20-million plus lives in the megapolis every day even as their own lanes, alleys and hearths escape the world’s attention. Once in a while, a Hollywood or a Virus brings it back into human consciousness. To be forgotten, as soon as the event is over.

 

Indian Muslims: Rise and find a voice against Jamaat; Win the nation’s trust

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Indian Muslims can no longer blame others of Islamophobia if they continue to defend or ignore what has happened in the wake of Tablighi Jamaat disaster.

It’s clear that thousands came over and stayed put in Nizamuddin markaz despite restrictions/lockdowns being in place.

We now have videos where they are seen eating from the same utensil, drinking and bathing from common tanks.

Hundreds slept in the same room.

When social distancing was being practiced by millions of Indians, their “maulana” or head preacher was allegedly suggesting that it’s a ploy to divide Muslims. “Being together is your strength,” was his alleged call.

While the nation, in the midst of a life-death battle, seethed at this blatant transgression, the Tablighi Jamaat devouts first refused to leave the markaz and then chose to spit on the policemen around them.

Subsequently, we have had videos of a Muslim locality in Indore throwing stones and hurting paramedical staff which came to save them from Corona Virus threat.

A few of Tablighi Jamaat Corona Virus patients under medical care in Ghaziabad, are walking semi-naked and passing lurid comments on nurses, as per an official complaint.

HImanta Biswa Sarma was almost in tears on national TV, stating Tablighi Jamaat attendees who have returned to Assam have gone in hiding. Sarma fears that his state, which had no case till the Tablighi Jamaat fiasco, could face a disaster if these men remained untraceable.

Their so-called leaders, like Asaduddin Owaisi, are suggesting that those who have lost the battle against Corona Virus are no less than “martyrs.” Amanatullah Khan is busy blaming the police.

There are a few attendant questions which India’s sizeable Muslim community needs to pause and reflect:

(a)    Would you not fault one of your religious offshoots which want its followers to go back to the lifestyle of the seventh century? Is it in sync with modern realities and their own future?

(b)   Those who are defending Jamaat at this grave criminal conduct, can they reasonably claim to be secular? Aren’t they being communal? Worse, aren’t they directing anger of India’s masses against you, the Indian Muslims?

(c)    Aren’t these seculars widening the divide between you and the rest of Indian society? In which way is it helping you or your next generations? Can’t you see their only aim is your vote and not your welfare?

(d)   There could be a widespread opposition among Indian Muslims on CAA-NPR-NRC. “Kagaz Nahin Dekhayenge -Won’t show identity papers—sounds revolutionary. But if the State has real numbers of its citizens, wouldn’t it help to dole out cash to needy? (That’s what US president Donald Trump has resorted to now).

(e) Would you blame the rest of India if it feels that “social-distancing” norm was flouted only because prime minister Narendra Modi had made this call?

(f)   Would you fault intelligence agencies if they probe that a few in the vast congregation at Nizamuddin markaz could’ve been bio-bombers? I mean how could you rule out this possibility. More so when 100s of attendees have gone underground?

(g)     Would you ignore the fact that Intelligence today points at a few Rohingyas who have slipped in as members of Tablighi Jamaat?

(h)Would you feign ignorance that Sri Lanka has tipped off India on a few extremists having crossed over as Tablighi devouts? After all one of your own, India’s minority minister, has termed Jamaat’s act as Talibani.

(i)    How do you think India is today reacting when the NSA literally had to beg Tablighis to vacate the markaz?

The truth is: Everyone has failed you. And you yourself.

Your community leaders are out to use you.

Your “Mullahs” want to keep you blindfolded into ignorance.

your political suckers have kept you in misery for the last seven decades.

There is no point blaming others of Islamophobia;  or wearing the “persecuted” mantle.

There is a reason why other minorities—Sikhs, Jains, Parsis—have done so well in the same milieu in which you breathe.

You can’t blame BJP also for they have emerged only recently. If anything, you were worse under UPA.

If Indian Muslims feel that rest of India is hostile to them, they first need to put their house in order. They need to be Indians first, Muslims later. It would mean calling a spade a spade. Find a voice to condemn Tablighi Jamaat. They have shackled you; their plan is—always has been to—use you to their own end. Rise above them and win India’s trust. Take to social media, exhort your own locality; for Allah’s sake do something. You can’t be sheep at their command. Stop playing the “Islamophobia” card. Your future lies with the rest of India; embrace it.

 

 

Why Indian Express doesn’t want to stay on the Tablighi story?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

 

Yes. That’s the charge. A charge its’ readers like me are levelling: Why Indian Express doesn’t want to stay on the Tablighi story?

Express has opted for a banner headline (see the image) today which can’t get bigger even if World War 3 breaks out.

Only, this is not about Corona: It’s about four states “knocking” on Centre for extra funds.

Now,

(a)    Who are the states in question? Anti-Modi governments of West Bengal, Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab of course.

(b)   Have they already asked for funds? Not yet.

(c) What’s the source of Indian Express story? An unknown official.

(d)   And why states could be asking for funds? Now hold your breath: For returning migrants. Not for Corona victims but for migrants.

(e)   And who are the states who should be in the forefront of seeking help even on migrants? Of course Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Indian Express conveniently doesn’t seek these two states out.

So, no funds have been asked, no written or spoken request made, questionable states, questionable source, and that too for migrants and not Corona!!! And yet Indian Express gives a kind of banner headline which most editors don’t give in their entire careers.

This when Tablighi Jamaat fiasco threatens to drown the country in the misery of Corona Virus.

The cases have doubled and crossed 2000 figures overnight.

One single person testing positive could potentially infect 10,000 people.

Many Tablighi Jamaat attendees have gone in hiding.

Official request is making no difference to them.

Could they be bio bombers?

But none of these thoughts prick the conscience of our “newspaper of courage.”

It doesn’t ponder if it could be “infiltrators” and perhaps justify CAA-NPR-NRC

It wants its readers to concentrate on funds a few anti-Modi states “could” ask. This when the Centre is constantly in touch with states to seek out remedial measures. Modi is holding meeting with states regularly.

This is not the sole reason for a reader like me to believe Indian Express is doing its best to bury the Tablighi Jamaat complicity in spreading the Corona Virus. When this news hit the Indians like scalding oil on Tuesday, Express chose to almost bury the story.

That sensational story was not even front page lead in Indian Express that day. Worse, it chose to put a “Delhi area” in the headline (see image), instead of squarely blaming Tablighi Jamaat for the distress it has plunged the nation into. And this I am talking about the Delhi edition of Indian Express.

Don’t you think readers of the city needed a more frontal, and not ambiguous, coverage from its newspaper about its own city? About a story which could put their lives in danger? And what about the residents of the area? They wouldn’t even have an inkling of human bio bombs exploding in their neighbourhood and their chosen newspaper trying to keep them in dark.

I may sound angry. But I am angry. It’s a gross betrayal of readers, if not country, from a national newspaper. It puts doubt in my mind for what could be behind such Indian Express’ coverage. If it’s only about their journalistic competence, it needs to shut its shop. If there is more to it, if there is an interest in spiking this sensational story, then not just Press Council of India but even law agencies need to move in. Tablighi Jamaat has not only cost 10 lives thus far, It has put thousands on the line as well. It could submerge India in political and economic tsunami.

Indian Express would be under my lens for the remaining days of this Corona misery. Forget about Express exploring the Al Qaeda angle of Tablighi Jamaat about which I wrote yesterday; I would look carefully if Express is even reporting the mishap truthfully. As should be their thousands of readers. And authorities.

 

 

Tablighi Jamaat: Why FBI finds it a “recruiting ground” for Al Qaeda?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Tablighi Jamaat hates attention from the world. They prefer secrecy. But once Corona Vurs patients narrated their travel history from around India, the Nizamuddin headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat kept popping up. It blew the cover off on Monday.

Why Tablighi wishes to slip under the radar? How is it even possible with 80 million members, spread over 150 countries (Figures Pew Research Center) ? How it has evaded discourse in public when its’ nearly 100 years since it was born? More so when, its’ essence is to proselytize Islamic tenets?

Well, some did take notice all this while. A clutch of Central Asian countries—Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Kazakhstan—have banned it.  Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States feels its’ breeding ground for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. A WikiLeaks document released in 2011 claimed that Al Qaeda operatives used its’ Nizamuddin headquarters to obtain travel documents and shelter.

Kafeel Ahmed, a part of this movement, was arrested for the failed attack on Glasgow airport in 2007. A series of coordinated terrorist suicide attacks in London on July 7, 2005,  known as 7/7, which targeted commuters in the city’s public transport system, were carried out by Shehzad Tanveer and Mohammed Saddique Khan who used to pray at a Tablighi masque in Dewsbury, England.

Still Tablighi evades attention. And that’s because its goals appear innocuous. It wants to recreate lives of Muslims in the image of the Prophet Muhammad. The beard has to be of certain length; teeth-cleaning ought to be done with miswak (twig) and not toothbrush.  It professes to be apolitical. Women are segregated; often they sit in one room while a Tabligh elder shouts a lecture from behind a closed door.  It discourages worldly activities, ostensibly to prepare them for the Judgment Day,  From mosque to mosque, cities to cities, states to states, countries to countries, its missionary bands knock at doors, preaching a return to “pure” Islamic values. The lure seems pretty harmless: Why don’t you join us for a few days on the road and see for yourself?

Such promises often attract youth, angry or lacking identity. Men who want things in black and white, and nothing in gray. The other-worldliness holds attraction. The society around loses its lustre. “People are tutored that you don’t fit in, modern world is an aberration, an offense, some form of blasphemy,” says Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic professor in US, “By preparing people in this fashion, you are preparing them to be in a state of warfare against the world.”

This detachment perfectly suits terror groups like Al Qaeda. Those with intense zealousness in Islam are kept in eye. Al Qaeda fish in the Tablighi pond of alienated and escapist youths. ”We have a significant presence of Tablighi Jamaat in the United States, and we have found that Al Qaeda used them for recruiting, now and in the past,” said Michael J. Heimbach, the deputy chief of the F.B.I.’s international terrorism section.

A chilling analogy is drawn: Tablighi Jamaat is like electricians who set up poles and draw up lines. Till one day the mayor comes and switches on the lights.

Tablighi Jamaat, an Arabic word, means the “group that propagates the faith.” It’s hierarchical. There is an Ameer who dispenses advice to everyone.  Full-time members are usually elders. They make up the Shura or the Council. Younger members of course make up the missionary band. There is a daily mashoora (gathering).

In its Nizamuddin headquarters, Indian Muslims occupy the first floor. Arabs, Algerians, Tunisians, Indonesians, Malayasian etc devouts are spread on different floors. There is a room for communal lunch: people squat on the floor and eat on plastic sheets. There is little time spent on food or sleep. But for a brief siesta, most of the day is spent in Quranic recitation.

Malaysian political scientist, Farish Noor, says in his book Islam on the Move: “Saudi national Abdul Bukhary who was on the watch-list of numerous countries had managed to get himself into the Tablighi markaz (Centre) in Nizamuddin while claiming to be a Tablighi too.” FBI is on record that it has found Al Qaeda was using Tablighi Jamaat for recruiting new terrorists.

How is it funded? No one knows for sure. But the numbers are big. Nizamuddin markaz affords massive accommodation with accompanying food etc. An analyst, Alex Alexiev, wrote way back in 2005: “There is no doubt that some of the vast sums spent by Saudi organizations such as the World Muslim League on proselytism benefit Tablighi Jamaat.” For instance, the Tablighi headquarters of Europe, built in England, was funded by World Muslim League way back in 1978.

Tablighi Jamaat originated in Mewat region (now part of Haryana and Rajasthan) in 1926. The local muslims, known as Meos, shared Hindu traditions, like pheras (going around the sacred fire) in marriage; and celebrated Hindu festivals as they did their own, Eid etc.  In due course, local Muslims, to hold on to their identity, began Tablighi Jamaat.  Islamic scholar Maulana Muhammad Ilyas is said to have begun it.

The last word must belong to Mushirul Hasan, former vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia. “Tablighi Jamaat claims to be totally apolitical. It’s a very convenient statement. No movement is apolitical. Every moment has an objective.”

In the present Corona tremor induced by Tablighi Jamaat, AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan says that this congregation couldn’t disperse because of the nationwide lockdown on March 24.  But he won’t tell that on March 16 itself, no more than 50 were allowed to gather in Delhi.  On March 19, all institutions had been ordered close. On March 22, the Delhi government had announced a lockdown in the Capital. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan too has rushed to the defence of Tablighi Jamaat. He said in a tweet: “it’s unfair to blame them.”

Indeed, a series of incidents, such as ones in Shaheen Bagh, Jamia, Jaffrabad, Seelampur point towards an “Islamic insurrection of sorts  which has come to the surface in the wake of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)”, tweets Amit Malviya, head of the BJP IT cell. Thousands of preachers from abroad were in the town, concealing their purpose of visit. It’s as good a reason as any to press ahead with CAA-NPR-NRC exercise. India needs to find out the enemies who are illegally residing within its borders.

(This article is heavily based on pieces in New York Times and Live Mint. Of course references to Tablighi Jamaat as recruiting ground for terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda won’t be mentioned in our corrupt Lutyens Media).

 

A letter to Prime Minister Modi: 21-day lockdown is not enough

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Mr Prime Minister,

The Indian state would be making a fatal mistake if it chooses to sit on its haunches just because a 21-day lockdown is in force from Wednesday.

Your  second address to the nation on Tuesday was an incessant appeal to stay at home. You described this measure as “one flicker of light in this enveloping darkness”. You left no one in doubt that India won’t be able to overcome this deadly killer virus on paramedical staff, ICU (intensive care unit) beds and ventilators alone.

Unofficial figures suggest India has probably 150,000 ICU beds and 75,000 ventilators. Probably a few lakh paramedical staff. It has ramped up random testing since last week. But India needs a proactive strategy to catch the “virus” in hibernation within four walls of homes.

In simpler terms, go for door-to-door testings across India.

You quoted South Korea more than once in your address to emphasis how the Asian nation appears to have come to grips with Corona Virus. You identified “social distancing” as the prime reason for such a spectacular success. But South Korea hasn’t resorted to a lockdown. Of course, such a comparison is unfair given the unequal medical muscle of the two countries.

South Korea has also relied on doing tests on its citizens at every high-spot of people’s presence: medical stores, grocery shops, petrol pumps and of course homes. It so far has conducted over 400,000 tests on its 51-million citizens. United States, in contrast, has done random tests on only 50,000 of its 300-mllion plus citizens.  India, a nation of 1.3 billion people, only has a sample of around 5,000 random tests thus far.

India, before it banned international flights from landing this Sunday, had largely restricted its testing to arriving passengers. It then has lately woken up to random testing. But still random tests are within 1,000 a day. South Korea in contrast is testing close to 15,000 citizens everyday.

Lately, stirrings are being felt across the country. Jaipur is isolating every 3-km radius area where a positive test has emerged. It’s being followed with home-to-home tests. The paramedical staff is being supported by volunteers and nursing students. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is now conducting door-to-door visits in Mumbai. But these visits primarily are to check with housing societies if there is anyone who suspects himself/herself to be infected with the deadly virus. They are also checking on those with a recent travel history in these societies. Ludhiana is being remarkably alert as health officials are visiting every household in the district to obtain a declaration if anyone in the family has travelled abroad recently or is showing symptoms of virus.

On paper, it shouldn’t be difficult for the Indian state to resort to home-to-home tests. After all, it’s a practice which is followed during vaccination drives, if not entirely during General Elections. India would find volunteers in thousands. All it needs to do is to provide these bravehearts with adequate protective gears, equipments and a few hours of training on how to conduct tests.

One hopes your government isn’t being too wary lest home-to-home tests are construed a “dry run” for National Public Register (NPR) exercise. Rumour-mongers of course are busy overtime. But frankly, the government has no option but to bite the bullet. It must take recourse to judiciary, Constitution and the long arm of law. And to hell with naysers.

Yours’ truly

Ashish Shukla

Corona Virus: India enters the stretch when the wheels could come off

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India stood as one behind its prime minister Narendra Modi’s call to “isolate” itself on Sunday but there is a fear that the deadly Corona Virus could be laughing in the background—or in the midst of 1.3 billion people.

Any world leader could have swooned at such a doting citizenry which stood indoors and came out with pots and pans; conch-shells and bells at an appointed hour to extol India’s medical warriors in the frontline against the pandemic virus. But Modi’s words in the aftermath are one of caution: “Stay indoors”.

For the moment, Modi’s message is directed at residents of 80 districts of 22 states which have officially been “shut down.” But for grocery and medical shops, nothing moves. This figure, if the example of rest of the world is anything to go by, is due to shoot skywards in coming days, if not hours.

Nations, mauled by this virus, have shown a spike after the first 250 cases are detected. Thus, Italy went from 322 to 41,000 cases in 24 days. Spain (261 to 17,000) and the United States (233 to 14,000) went into a tailspin in just two weeks. Germany (262 to 14,000) and France (285 to 11,000) nosedived in a mere 16 days. United Kingdom took a dozen days to find its 270 cases balloon to 3,200.

India crossed its 300-patient figure last Saturday.

India, on its part, is stretching itself thin to buck this trend. Trains have stopped running as India’s migrant poor, who work in cities and different states, are coming in hordes on platforms to return home. It’s Capital, Delhi, is now formally under curfew. Most states are shutting shops, entertainment malls, restaurants, metros etc. in cities to ensure people stay indoors. Only essential services like grocery and medicine shops are exempted.

All signs indicate that India is fearing the worst. Its health ministry held a press conference on Sunday to confess they are mostly using anti-viral drugs to combat the menace. “But then countries most developed, having the best of

scientific and medical infrastructure, haven’t been able to come to grips with it,” said the official rather sheepishly.

The preparation for the worst-case scenario is underwhelming. New labs are being taken into the fold but they add only 60 to the numbers which is battle-ready from the State’s side. Schools are being converted into quarantine-wards. Medical staff in the business of testing suspect cases is complaining of inadequate protection. India would lose the battle if its medical personnel take to heels. Then there would be no stopping the marauding virus.

A committed, aware citizenry is thus India’s best bet. And there could be no better man than Modi for the task as millions swear by him. His secretariat is holding meetings with honchos of other states to get real on the situation. States increasingly are offering money and free food to aid India’s poor, without a formal job and now shunned by the shops and householders who usually seek them out on a day-to-day basis.

Isolation seems to be the first and possibly best bet for the Indian state. Many of its citizens believe that the rising temperatures could stall its spread. Some hope Indians have the requisite immunity system within their frames, having grown up in less than perfect environment, to combat virus. Nobody knows for sure.

For the moment though the nation is on its Sunday-high. The recent heat generated on Kashmir or the recent Citizenship Act is doused. Families are rooting for neighbours they hadn’t noticed previously. Indian flags are being unfurled on balconies and roof-tops. There is celebration at the sight of empty streets—quite eerie, Orwellian, for this otherwise would signify the end of the world.