Online display of anti-Muslim bigotry by some Indians living abroad in recent weeks has cost them their jobs.
In Canada last week, a man who posted crude opposition to a decision by a town mayor over Ramadan prayers on Twitter has been sacked from his job at a real estate firm and was removed from his role at a local school council in Bolton, Ontario.
The incident was preceded by the sacking of about 10 Indians, including some this month, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait, after heir anti-Muslim posts were brought to the attention of their employers by social media users, including some from the Arab world.
This led the Indian ambassador to the UAE, Mr.Pavan Kapoor, to step in and tweet on April 20, warning Indian expatriates in the UAE against indulging in bigotry.
A day earlier, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also tweeted to say that COVID-19 “does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking”.
He added: “Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood.”
While the firings have given rise to discussions, they have failed to curtail Islamophobia online in India, said Mr. Pratik Sinha, founder of Alt News, a fact-checking website.
Alt News has debunked several videos and images in recent weeks that were maliciously propagated to suggest Muslims were deliberately spreading coronavirus.
“People in India continue to operate along the same lines, he told The Straits Times.
“In India the polity is such that even senior politicians have tweeted out stuff that is hateful or discriminatory in nature. I don’t see how the hate being propagated is going to reduce until the politics of the country changes,” he added.
Anti-Muslim bigotry saw a surge in India after a Tablighi Jamaat meeting emerged as one of the country’s coronavirus hot spots in March. Thousands had attended the gathering of the Muslim missionary movement.
Some media commentaries sought to blame the entire Muslim community for the pandemic in India.
Major social media players in the country have, meanwhile, tried to contain the problem by deleting posts and deactivating accounts for exhibiting hatred.
India has a range of hate speech laws, including Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code that penalises “promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion”.
But the law is not a solution, said Mr. Sinha. “Like any other piece of legislation, it will be used selectively.”
Cases have been filed against several individuals in recent weeks for anti-Muslim bigotry, including a hospital in Uttar Pradesh that asked Muslims last month to prove they were not infected with coronavirus before giving them treatment.
Growing international condemnation of the Islamophobia displayed online by some Indians also seems to have led the government to crack down on such content.
On April 28, it asked Twitter to pull down more than 100 objectionable tweets. An analysis of these tweets by The Wire, an Indian news portal, showed about 60 per cent of them “could be described by some as Islamophobic while a smaller chunk could be viewed as Islamist, anti-Hindu and anti-BJP”. (Source: The Straits Times)