Coronavirus in India stokes religious tensions5 min read

Coronavirus poses a threat to all countries around the globe

Religious tensions flare up in response to Coronavirus

Coronavirus, either directly or indirectly, is affecting the entire world right now. Different countries are having different responses as well. Whether they are causing different politicians to unite over partisan lines, or just passing wide-ranging legislation to combat the crisis, all countries are having to react to th

e new threat of the Coronavirus. In India, the threat of the virus is stoking religious tensions between Hindus, which make up the vast majority of the population at around 80%[2], and Muslims which constitute a much smaller minority in the nation. This conflict is nothing new, but the pressure placed on individuals during this crisis seems to be escalating the conflicts between already separate ethnic and religious groups within India, causing strife and even violence.

The extent of this violence is striking in India. There are examples of Muslim men being beaten up on the streets with Cricket Bats, loudspeakers “telling people not to buy milk from Muslim dairy farmers,”[3] and even the Indian Health ministry blaming Muslims for the outbreak with phrases like “corona jihad.” All of these factors have lead to a larger rift between the Muslims in India, and the Hindu Majority. This is not the first time that there has been strife between the two groups, as there is a long history of conflict between them, but it seems that the Coronavirus crisis has either given an excuse for religious bigotry, or rose tensions to a breaking point between the two groups.

This past year, in particular, has seen more than it’s fair share of conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India. In August, there was a blackout in the majority Muslim Kashimir[4] and many are pointing out the pattern in the behavior of the Indian Government in terms of Coronavirus response. There was a large outbreak of coronavirus at a Muslim event, and the participating individuals did not properly isolate. Many Hindu Nationalists are quick to jump to this reasoning and blame the Muslim population for accelerating the outbreak in the country. The rise of religious tension in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis in India is indicative of a larger trend of conflict between the two major groups.

This is only one example of religious conflict between two groups in one country, but it can be seen as a prime example of a lack of a national unity[5]. In this case, many are choosing to identify with their religion rather than their nationality. This can lead to a major lack of national unity, and civil strife. When these groups of people choose to engage in identity politics, and further fractionalize themselves along ethnic or religious lines, there is a powderkeg of religious tension ready to explode at any moment. This is why in a high-stress crisis, there can be a fallback onto old identity lines and back into conflict. I think that the conflict shown here exemplifies the lack of a national unity in India, where many people choose to identify with their ethnic or religious group. In the face of massive uncertainty and crisis, countries that have a stronger national unity may be able to pull together and fight the common enemy. In India’s case, unfortunately, the religious divides seem to have gotten the better of them and the crisis has only exacerbated previous conflict.

Will this new act in the longstanding conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India be felt long after the Coronavirus has left the region? Or will these issues force India towards a stronger national unity in order to defeat such a strong and invisible enemy? If a worldwide pandemic that can bring nations who usually do not work so well together, together, then certainly there is hope for India to unite against a common cause. Maybe India’s ethnic fractionalization makes it much harder to have a strong national unity, even if it is just around a temporary crisis. Nonetheless, something must change and the religious violence between Muslims and Hindus in India at the moment cannot distract from the overwhelming threat of the global pandemic. The pandemic, in some ways, can be a force for consolidation, forcing those who might disagree to cooperate in order to solve the crisis. Unfortunately, we have seen much of the divisive nature of this crisis on India so far. Hopefully, in the future, India will be able to put aside some of their religious and ethnic differences in order to put their best foot forward in fighting this virus.

Works Cited

“Census of India: Religion.” Accessed April 15, 2020. http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_And_You/religion.aspx.

NPR.org. “Coronavirus Updates: Governors Unite, Trump Not Firing Fauci.” Accessed April 15, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/04/13/833623297/coronavirus-updates-governors-unite-trump-not-firing-fauci.

Gettleman, Jeffrey, Kai Schultz, and Suhasini Raj. “In India, Coronavirus Fans Religious Hatred.” The New York Times, April 12, 2020, sec. World. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/12/world/asia/india-coronavirus-muslims-bigotry.html.

Penar, Peter. “Lecture: 4/1/2020.” April 1, 2020.

NPR.org. “Why Doctors And Medical Journals Are Fighting Over Health Care In Kashmir.” Accessed April 15, 2020. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/08/30/755853835/why-doctors-and-medical-journals-are-fighting-over-health-care-in-kashmir.


[1] “Coronavirus Updates: Governors Unite, Trump Not Firing Fauci,” NPR.org, accessed April 15, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/04/13/833623297/coronavirus-updates-governors-unite-trump-not-firing-fauci.

[2] “Census of India: Religion,” accessed April 15, 2020, http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_And_You/religion.aspx.

[3] Jeffrey Gettleman, Kai Schultz, and Suhasini Raj, “In India, Coronavirus Fans Religious Hatred,” The New York Times, April 12, 2020, sec. World, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/12/world/asia/india-coronavirus-muslims-bigotry.html.

[4] “Why Doctors And Medical Journals Are Fighting Over Health Care In Kashmir,” NPR.org, accessed April 15, 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/08/30/755853835/why-doctors-and-medical-journals-are-fighting-over-health-care-in-kashmir.

[5] Peter Penar, “Lecture: 4/1/2020.”

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