India on Wednesday criticised the comments made by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom following reports on coronavirus patients being segregated along religious lines in a hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

The commission expressed concerns that separate wards had been created for Hindu and Muslim patients. “USCIRF is concerned with reports of Hindu and Muslim patients separated into separate hospital wards in Gujarat,” it said in a tweet. “Such actions only help to further increase ongoing stigmatisation of Muslims in India and exacerbate false rumors of Muslims spreading Covid-19.”

India’s Ministry of External Affairs accused the commission of spreading “misguided reports” and claimed that segregation on the basis of a patient’s religious identity was not being done. “As if its peremptory commentary on religious freedom in India is not enough, the USCIRF is now spreading misguided reports on the professional medical protocols followed to deal with spread of Covid-19 in India,” ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said in a statement.

“It must stop adding religious colour to our national goal of fighting the pandemic and distract from larger efforts,” he added. “No segregation is being done in civil hospitals on the basis of religion, as clarified by the Gujarat government.”

At civil hospitals, patients are normally segregated on the basis of their gender, with separate wards for male and female persons. However, at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, where 1,200 beds have been set aside for coronavirus treatment, separate wards have reportedly been created for Hindu and Muslim patients. Medical Superintendent Dr Gunvant H Rathod had told The Indian Express that the segregation was made as per a directive issued by the Gujarat government. “It is a decision of the government and you can ask them,” he had said.

Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister Nitin Patel has strongly rebutted the medical superintendent’s claim. Ahmedabad Collector KK Nirala also denied any knowledge of the matter.

Meanwhile, an unidentified doctor at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital told The Hindu that some patients from the Hindu community were uncomfortable about sharing the same ward as Muslims.

India has reported 12,380 coronavirus cases with 414 deaths as of Thursday morning. Out of the total confirmed cases, Gujarat has over 760 cases.

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Covid-19: Separate wards for Hindu and Muslim patients made in Ahmedabad hospital