Published: 09th April 2020
Physically-challenged Muslim JNU student forced into quarantine, wrongly linked to Tablighi Jamaat event
The unhygienic state of the quarantine, lack of physical distancing and toilet-sharing situation could be putting the student at risk of not just contracting the virus but also risking his life
Large sections of Indian society have been quick to communalise COVID-19 after several members of the Tablighi Jamaat event were tested positive. There have been reports of Muslims being beaten, harassed, forced out of their homes, ostracised and discriminated against over the last few days. One of the latest to fall victim to this backlash is 20-year-old JNU student Hasan Imam, who is coincidentally physically handicapped.
Hasan, who returned to his hometown in Bihar when hostels in JNU were closed, claims he was forcefully taken into quarantine despite showing no symptoms of COVID-19. The police put Hasan on 'the list' because they believed he was a part of the Tablighi Jamaat event, but Hasan denies that he has anything to do with the event and had only returned from JNU after it was shut down.
Hasan, a first year BA student from the Russian Language department of JNU is originally from Gaya in Bihar. After the hostel mess closed on March 16, Hasan decided to go home. On March 19, he took the train at 5 pm and reached home the next day. At the station he went through the routine checking and exited. "I self-quarantined for the next few days just to be safe and not risk the health of my family members," he tells us.
On April 2, he received a phone call from the District Health Department who asked him two questions - if he had returned from Delhi and if he was feeling sick. "I told them I had returned from Delhi and that I was completely fine and they just cut the call. So I called back to find out who they were and what they wanted, but nobody picked up," he added.
Four days later, Hasan came across a press release from the Health Department with a list of names of those who had to be quarantined. Hasan's name was there, along with his father's. "This happened 15 days after I returned from Delhi. I was perfectly healthy. They told me that I was being quarantined because of the Markaz event, but I have absolutely no connection to the event at all and I had enough proof to show I had nothing to do with it. I told them they can't put me on the list just because of my name. So when the police and an ambulance came that day to pick me up I refused to leave," he explained.
The police finally left, only to come the next day in double the number. "This time they threatened my family, they said everybody would be sent to quarantine if I refused to leave. Again, I tried to convince them and tell them I had nothing to do with the Jamaat and that I was a JNU student who just came back home, like every other student. And I was showing NO symptoms, it had been so long since I had returned, there was no need for me to go," he said. Hasan reached out to as many authorities as possible to prove he had nothing to with the Jamaat.
No amount of convincing or proof deterred the police, "I told them that I had online classes and cannot let this come in the way of my academics but nothing worked. The police said it did not matter what I had to say, since my name was on the list I had to go. And because they threatened to take my whole family, I could do nothing except go with them," the frustrated student said.
Now that he is in quarantine, Hasan feels that there is a 100 percent chance that he could eventually get the virus. Even if there was no chance of it affecting him before this. He is lodged in a small rundown room, shares a bathroom with 7-8 other quarantined patients and has not had any doctors come and check him yet. "I cannot explain in words how bad the situation is, how dirty it is and how horrible and frustrated I'm feeling here," he says with disgust. He says being handicapped, there is more risk to his health because he's staying in a place where the virus could pass on easily.
Hasan says there are many others in the quarantine area with him who have no symptoms and have no idea why they have been brought there. Most of them, Hasan claims, are Muslims, "There are some migrant labourers who walked here on foot. There is also a one-year-old child with her parents. I asked a person who had been here for three days if a doctor had visited him and he said no one had come. No doctors are here, no tests, no clean facilities - just a 100 percent risk of all of us catching the virus. Putting us in danger for no reason at all," he explained.
"The police just want to get their hands on whoever they can and bring them here, they just want to ensure they can keep us here during the isolation period. The higher the numbers, the better. Their target is to keep us here for 14 days, whether we have symptoms or not," the student tell us.
He asks his family to get him food everyday but he's barely able to eat because of his surroundings. He can't risk eating at the isolation centre because of the poor quality of food. Hasan is desperate to get out but there's not much that his family can do. "They might know somebody in the lower ranks but we have no way of getting in touch with the health department," he said.
Hasan has reached out to his peers in JNU and is seeking help. "I called up Aishe Ghosh, the president of JNU Students' Union and the others as well. They have helped me. Students from other Universities have also gotten in touch with me." he added.
The JNUSU has condemned this 'shameful act of communal targeting in the midst of a public health crisis'. They have appealed to the student community to help Hasan by contacting the Gaya administration individually on phone or email until they take cognisance of the matter and intervene. The All India Students Association has also issued a statement in support of Hasan, "The Gaya administration's way of picking up people and putting them in quarantine zones speaks volume of the ill trained manner they are working amidst the pandemic, and putting public health at further risk. They have said that they are picking up people based on a list provided by NDMA Delhi with travel history to Delhi. But this is being done even without testing the said person for the Coronavirus. Putting many people without testing for the virus in a quarantine zone where no norms of social distancing are practiced, the risk for all the people getting the virus increases," the AISA said in a statement.
"With no drinking water or hygienic food or even timely food and plenty of mosquitoes around, and being kept in a place with more people who are being tested for COVID, Hasan is at a greater risk to fall ill to the virus and a number of other illness. The overcrowded quarantine zone has no norms of physical distancing being practiced," the student body pointed out.