Volunteers distributing relief material attacked

A leader allegedly told them they were spreading virus deliberately

By K.V. Aditya Bharadwaj

Some of the family members of Zareen Taj, an activist with Swaraj Abhiyan, were attacked allegedly by members of a Hindu right-wing organisation at Dasarahalli in Bengaluru while distributing relief material amidst the COVID-19 lockdown.

Ms. Taj said four of her family members (including her son and three brothers) and her son’s friend have been injured.

She said that she had a harrowing time for the past three days over the distribution of ration and it had culminated in a physical attack on Monday. “A leader said they will not allow us to distribute ration till the Health Department checked and cleared it safe as they alleged that we were spreading virus deliberately,” said Ms. Taj. They lodged a complaint with the police alleging social distancing was not being followed. “When we went to lodge a counter-complaint, the police assured us they would not allow such disruptions in future,” she said.

However, on Monday evening, when they were distributing ration, a group of six people, different from those who confronted them on Saturday, allegedly attacked them with cricket bats. “Five of us are badly injured,” she said and broke down as she spoke to The Hindu. “Is it wrong that we want to help the hungry?”

Bhimashankar Guled, DCP (North East), said there will be zero tolerance to any attempt at spreading communal hatred. A case will be registered and arrests made, he said. On why the police did not take action earlier, he said the victims did not want to press for a case, but they had warned those who had obstructed work on Saturday. “Another gang seems to be involved,” he said.

Other cases

There have been other examples in the city of Muslim volunteers facing similar problems, with many fake news websites and WhatsApp forwards linking spread of COVID-19 to the Muslim community. “Using the Tablighi Jamaat incident, the community is being stigmatised by political forces, through social media and a section of mainstream media,” said Tanveer Ahmed, an activist volunteering with Mercy Mission.

Gulab Pasha, who has been volunteering with multiple organisations providing food and ration to the hungry in the city, on Saturday was barred from delivering material in Thippasandra in South Bengaluru. Though 40-odd labourers in the area wanted it, some local leaders prevented it, ostensibly because of religious prejudice. In another instance, Abdur Rehman, also a volunteer with Mercy Mission, was allegedly abused by five men in a car as he was distributing relief to ragpickers in Dasarahalli. “When we tried to take a picture of the car, they smashed the mobile,” Mr. Rehman alleged.

However, multiple volunteers who have been at the receiving end of such stigma said those who are hungry and need help have never turned them away. “A few days ago, a local leader at a slum in West Bengaluru refused to allow our volunteer to distribute food to 200 labourers. But the labourers sent him away and took the food. Not in one instance have the hungry themselves taken into account the religion,” said Mr. Pasha.

A week ago, a delegation from the community petitioned Praveen Sood, DG&IGP, seeking directions to all Police Commissioners and Superintendents of Police to act against hate speech. The community now plans to petition the police on volunteers being stigmatised. “It is sad that when entire humanity has to unite, some political forces are stigmatising our community,” said Irshad Desai, convener, Association for Protection of Civil Rights.

This story first appeared on thehindu.com

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