A group of people approached a government health facility in north Karnataka in early April, where an asymptomatic COVID-19 patient had been admitted. They demanded that the man be released, claiming that he was being kept there for no reason, as he presented no symptoms.
A doctor at the government facility, who didn’t want the district to be named since it would reveal his identity, said he tried to explain to the group, that even an asymptomatic patient could be positive. He says initially the people were not in a mood to listen.
“I didn’t involve the police since I thought it was important to make them understand. After even though they began to understand my explanations, they were still unsettled.”Govt facility doctor
It was only after he sat with them for a while that their real concerns emerged. They started opening their phones to show the doctor messages they had received, which claimed that minorities were being targeted by authorities.
“I was taken aback when I realised that media reports and social media forwards are fuelling suspicion against the healthcare system and our genuine attempts to fight the virus,” he said.
This is one of the many such stories in Karnataka, about how social media hate and heavily editorialised media reports have hampered efforts to fight the novel coronavirus at the grass-root level.
‘We Are Called Terrorists’
Even in the recent violence, in Bengaluru’s Padarayanapura, similar concerns were raised. As many as 119 people were arrested in this west Bengaluru neighbourhood after a group of people went on a rampage, vandalising a police check-post.
The trouble started after some people resisted the city administration’s move to shift some secondary contacts of a COVID-19 patient to a government-designated centre.
Talking to The Quint, residents of this neighbourhood said that media reports targeting Muslims, especially following the Tablighi Jamaat conference in New Delhi, had led to apprehension among people.
“They were calling us terrorists. One minister even said those who attended the event should be shot. Even after all this, do you think people would trust the police or BBMP when they come to pick people up at night?” asked one of the residents, who requested anonymity.
The fact that Padarayanapura had three patients who tested positive, after attending the Tablighi Jamaat conference, led to a fear that they will be targeted and this resulted in the resistance, say residents.
“Their fears were proved right when people of the entire neighbourhood were called terrorists by the media for the mistake of a few people after the violence,” said another resident of the area.
One of them added that a recent attack on healthcare workers in Bengaluru started with confusion that they had come for information related to the National Population Register (NPR).
When Ministers Join Muslim Bashing
In parts of coastal Karnataka, that has seen sharp communal polarisation in the past, anti-Muslim hatred is visible in public yet again.
According to a senior Kannada newspaper reporter based in Mangaluru, several villages in the region have put up posters 'banning entry' of Muslims.
“The fear within the community has been there before the virus itself. Following the anti-CAA protest in Mangaluru, there were crackdowns on several neighbourhoods. Now, many fear that COVID-19 could be used to target them. Nothing so far has happened because community leaders are spreading awareness, but there is lack of trust in the system.”A senior Mangaluru-based journalist
A resident of Bantwal, a town next to Mangaluru, claims that two senior BJP leaders, one of them a state minister, have been speaking against Muslims since the Tablighi Jamaat conference.
“Why are they blaming Muslims for spreading the virus? Imagine what an illiterate man would think when health workers come to him to conduct tests?” he asked.
A senior IAS officer handling COVID-19 related activities in the state said that the number of incidents where health workers have been targeted have been limited. He said the Muslim community has been supporting the government in every way possible and any issue coming up will be dealt with appropriately.