The Supreme Court on Monday refused to pass any interim orders in a petition seeking action against the media for communalising the coronavirus pandemic in light of the Tablighi Jamaat meeting held in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area in early March. India’s Union health ministry has reported 9,352 coronavirus cases and 324 patients have died.
The court said it cannot gag the media and asked the petitioners to make the Press Council of India a party to the case, Bar and Bench reported. “We cannot curb the freedom of press,” a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said.
The petitioners said there was violence due to the “communal headlines” and “bigoted statements” in the media about Tablighi Jamaat members and Muslims. Advocate Ejaz Maqbool added that there were cases of violence against Muslims in Karnataka and that names of patients had been made public.
To this, the court said that if it was a question of killing or defamation, “then your remedy is somewhere else”. But, “if it’s a question of larger reporting then PCI has to be made party”, the judges added. The case may be taken up by the court next week.
The petition, filed by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, had claimed that the media had communalised the Nizamuddin Markaz event and that some sections of print and electronic media had “demonised the entire Muslim community”.
This has led to serious “threat to life and liberty of Muslims” and the violation of their “Right to life under Article 21”, the petition said, adding that most reports had used terms such as “Corona Jihad”, “Corona Terrorism” and “Islamic Resurrection”.
Not stopping such communal reporting would only “promote ill-will, enmity and hatred towards the Muslim community in India”, the petition added. It also pointed out that several social media posts wrongly showed Muslims doing deliberate acts to spread the virus but these were debunked.
Such fake reports were a violation of the Supreme Court’s March 31 order directing media outlets “to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated”, the petition added.
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Ever since news broke that the convention held by the Tablighi Jamaat was a Covid-19 hotspot, rumours about the spread of the coronavirus have taken on a communal hue. Videos circulating on social media platforms appeared to show Muslim men spitting on food, licking plates and sneezing in unison to spread the virus – all of these have been debunked as fake news. Even certain television channels and organisations like the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT Cell blamed Muslims for the spread of the pandemic.
In several places, this had also translated into violence. On April 7, rumours about Muslim men intentionally spitting to spread the virus reportedly led to group clashes in Jharkhand’s Gumla district. It began with an attack on a young man, who was seriously injured. Another person died in the ensuing clashes.
Three separate incidents took place in the National Capital Region on April 5, the same day that Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked everyone to light candles in the darkness for nine minutes in a show of solidarity for India’s fight against the coronavirus. A 22-year-old who had reportedly returned from a Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Bhopal was assaulted in Harewali village.
A Muslim family in Gurgaon was allegedly attacked for taking videos of a procession that took to the streets to carry out Modi’s instructions. A mosque in Gurugram was shot at and those arrested told the police they had fired to “check if anyone infected with the coronavirus was hiding inside”. Instances of violence or hostility have emerged from other states as well.