Ask why was the Kumbh allowed, just as we asked why the Markaz was allowed? No gathering should be allowed, especially when India is now facing a severe second wave.
Renowned author Noam Chomsky said in 2020, “Nobody is going to pour truth into your brain, it is something you have to find out for yourself”.
We are in the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, as experts have said and yes, this second time is much worse, just going by the figures. According to Al Jazeera, India has pushed back Brazil, notching up the highest number of Covid-19 cases and many hospitals are running out of beds. In this entire coverage till now, going by the leading Delhi-centric media, it is only Maharashtra and Punjab that seem to have the highest numbers. The Maha Vikas Aghadi government has imposed strict curfew orders and restrictions, while there is a complete weekend lockdown and only food deliveries are allowed.
But what is the truth? Have you, as citizens tried to look for real news? Seen through the screaming coverage of how beds are not available in a remote suburb of Mumbai where star journalists have flown in and their cameras allowed inside the hospital wards?
Pursuit of truth
Have you pondered on why news from the rest of India is not being screamed out loud enough? Why is there distraction from the leaders who have allowed the Kumbh mela to be held and how now, the virus is likely to spill over everywhere. The diligent tracking and tracing that will be required and the cause for the intensification of the second wave will not be revealed. But have you tried to learn more about these developments or taken ‘info’ as is from the University of WhatsApp. Your favourite source may just not be accurate.
Later, as Chomsky tweeted, “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies”. It is the responsibility of media also to expose the lies. Let us examine some of these truths, or, are they lies? Maharashtra currently has 34,60,000 cases, 28,30,000 have recovered and 58,245 have died. Meanwhile, Maharashtra recorded a significant drop in the number of fresh Covid-19 related cases. Maharashtra recorded 39,544 cases in the last week. Meanwhile, the surge in Covid-19 continues as Delhi reported 1,819 new cases reported in 24 hours. Reporting cases in Maharashtra is mandatory and every laboratory is connected to the dashboard. One cannot escape the reporting of any positive cases. False news and rumours continue to abound as people are being given false reports – even if a person is not positive, the report shows the contrary. Citizens continue to believe these.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Gujarat, the numbers shown are much less while the percentage of Covid deaths are among the highest in Gujarat. Now, this comes at a time when the state has the lowest number of tests reported. After repeated reports by the media, the Gujarat High Court has made it mandatory for all private hospitals to take government approval before testing people who are admitted for other ailments during corona.
Chhattisgarh reported 4,617 coronavirus cases, which was its highest single-day spike since the outbreak of the pandemic last year. And prior to the Mahakumbh Mela, Uttar Pradesh had reported 2,600 new cases and nine fatalities. The total infection tally is now 6,19,783 and the total number of deaths 8,820. In Delhi, the total number of cases are 7,37,000, total recoveries are 6,87,000 and total number of deaths are 11,355. Karnataka has 10,70,000 number of cases, 9,86,000 have reportedly recovered and there have been 12,941 deaths.
Now let us rewind to a year ago, when we saw scores of naked sadhus perform acrobatic exercises, walk down the road at the kumbh for the ‘shahi snan’. Shahis till now, I had associated with paneer, sabz and so on. However, now, I will have to summon up fresh courage to consume any shahi dish. To come back to the most exploited and most commonly weapon of the Bharatiya Janata Party, communal rift, we saw this being unleashed in 2020, around this time. In all, three million are said to have gathered on the banks of river Ganga for the auspicious bath. Security measures have been taken, drones will be flown to mark those not wearing masks. I mean, however ridiculous this entire approach of piecemeal security measures may sound, giving permission was not plain absurd. It definitely stems from some vicious strategic minds that want to change the narrative and divert the attention. So, you have most of the television channels screaming about of lack of oxygen, beds not available and people dying in Maharashtra.
Tablighis blamed for spread of corona
The Tablighi Jamaat held a markaz, a religious event in Nizamuddin last March. After that, we saw a vicious strategy unleashed by the home department to launch a clear offensive against Muslims and Tablighis in particular, blaming them for the spread of the corona pandemic. Many Tablighi trustees are from Aurangabad, and from previous cases, we know the love central investigating agencies have for this city. Reams were written about how the markaz event should have been condemned and even the reporters did not investigate really hard. The way the reports appeared, especially from Aurangabad, were damning. Police sent their reports to the home department, which in turn, asked them to trace every member who had attended and get them arrested. For the next many days and nights, citizens were made to believe, because they conveniently believed that yes, Tablighis were the cause of Covid-19 in India. Small mercies, that by August 2020, the Bombay High Court had slammed the media campaign that showed this community in bad light. Also, interestingly, the HC called the Union Government a ‘political’ government that had made scapegoats of the Tablighis. Seriously, is this how gullible a nation we have become that for a moment we did not stop and ask ourselves, how did we give in this easily to government propaganda against Muslims. Do the majority of people realise, around the time first corona case was reported in India, on January 30, 2020, our top leaders were wooing then US President Donald Trump who was visiting Delhi. The timeline of events are never checked by the vast majority. It does not bode well for a nation where even the educated simply forward false information and fake news, saying it is not their responsibility to verify.
It is the basic duty of every citizen to question, to ask and demand for the truth. From whom? Ask why was the Kumbh allowed, just as we asked why the Markaz was allowed? No gathering should be allowed, especially when India is now facing a severe second wave. Authorities have asked devotees to strictly adhere to Covid-19 security protocol. The Uttarakhand High Court has made it mandatory for every attendee to carry their RT-PCR negative test report and a medical test certificate. Full page advertisements of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand in leading newspapers welcomed the devotees. Both, of course, shown without masks. Here, people are dying, medical experts have said wearing masks is mandatory, but we have leaders, who, unlike US President Joe Biden, choose not to.
Then we come to the drama amidst the immunisation drive. Suddenly for a week while the controlled vaccine programme was underway, Maharashtra began to run short of supplies. Many senior citizens who had registered and gone all the way to vaccine centres were turned away, for lack of stock. Union Ministers began the blame game and a section of the media began to run down Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. People began pointing fingers at Thackeray, instead of asking, why, despite a Centralised vaccine distribution system, were supplies falling short specifically in a few states only? State Health Minister Rajesh Tope questioned the Centre’s role and asked why so few vaccines were being released. We didn’t have to wait very long to find out. Another show, in keeping with the pattern of pomp and splendour of this government, was being planned. Only in India could we make a pandemic erupt into a festive gala. On Sunday, the ‘tika utsav’ was launched by the PM. The leader was asking people to go and get vaccinated. It does seem like everything in India now is dictated with a keen eye on the EVM. But dear people, you need to begin asking questions, it is your basic right.
Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior journalist with over 30 years of work experience across different media platforms. She is currently a freelancer and media consultant.
(Views Expressed Are Personal)