DemocracyWatch: Arundhati Roy warns of ‘genocidal climate’ in India

Indian Muslims are being labelled “corona-jihadis”.

17 June 2020, 8.52am
Arundhati Roy
Wikimedia Commons

When a writer as significant as Arundhati Roy starts to warn about a “genocidal climate” in the world’s biggest democracy, it’s time to start paying attention.

Speaking to openDemocracy last week, Roy described how “the hashtag #CoronaJihad started to circulate on Twitter” and was picked up by the traditional press; how one Muslim congregation was branded “human bombs”; how Muslims were being denied admission to hospitals; and how “local BJP leaders and politicians were calling for Muslim fruit and vegetable sellers to be boycotted”.

“The tone of the media... began to sound like Radio Rwanda,” she said.

“Muslims are being dehumanised, ostracised economically as well as socially – if you read scholars of genocide... they tell you that this is the first step, the way it all begins.” 

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Leap forward

For years, activists around the world have campaigned for the release from prison of Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and the country’s most prominent human rights activist. This week, Rajab was released from the notorious Jau prison under an alternative punishment scheme. At high risk from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions, he will be allowed to serve the rest of his sentence - for speaking out against the regime - from home. 

Step backward

Cholera, diphtheria and polio have spread as mass immunisation efforts were halted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.


The pandemic has increased violence, abuse and neglect of older people around the world, according to HelpAge International.


Bangladesh A university lecturer was charged under digital security laws for allegedly mocking a former health minister who died of the virus.

Bangladesh Rohingya leaders urged the government to lift an internet ban imposed on a million refugees from Myanmar because rumours and panic over the virus were deterring people from getting tested.

Nepal Police arrested ten people, including seven foreigners, as hundreds demonstrated against the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Hong Kong Riot police made arrests for breaches of anti-coronavirus bans during a protest marking the first anniversary of democracy demonstrations.

Tajikistan Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament voted in favour of making it an administrative offence to spread “inaccurate” and “untruthful” information about the pandemic.

Kazakhstan The government changed its methodology for counting cases, making the spread of the virus appear slower.

Azerbaijan Footage of police beating lockdown violators emerged on social media as the government faced a growing backlash against its strict enforcement.

Singapore Police arrested a man for allegedly circulating classified information about the country’s post-pandemic reopening plans.

India At least 55 journalists were arrested, physically assaulted or threatened for reporting on the coronavirus crisis during the lockdown, according to a report by the Rights and Risks Analysis Group.

India Proposed laws to shut down red-light districts during the pandemic could lead to increased police violence against sex workers, experts said.

India Writer Arundhati Roy accused the Indian government of creating a “genocidal climate” against the country’s Muslim population by using the pandemic to label them as “corona jihadis”.

Vietnam Authorities were accused of using repressive tactics to censor information on the pandemic, fining 700 people and jailing others.

Australia The minister for indigenous Australians announced that a proposed referendum on inidgenous recognition won’t take place this parliamentary term as the pandemic has pushed the issue aside.


European Union Europol set up a unit to help EU countries fight the rise in crime during the pandemic.

European Union The number of emails containing malware to gain bank account details had risen during the pandemic, with cyber-attacks in general increasing 16% compared with March and April, IT specialists said.

Italy Prosecutors investigating the authorities’ handling of the pandemic questioned prime minister Giuseppe Conte over alleged failures in Lombardy.

Russia Health workers faced threats and retaliation from employers and law enforcement for speaking out about unsafe working conditions during the pandemic, a survey by Human Rights Watch found.

Norway The health authority suspended its virus contact tracing app and deleted data following a ruling by the data protection authority.

UK Palantir, the data firm founded by Donald Trump ally Peter Thiel, secured crucial coronavirus contracts months after stepping up lobbying efforts in the UK, it was revealed.

France Thousands of anti-racist protesters in Paris were ‘kettled’ by police enforcing coronavirus restrictions despite a high court ruling that their protest could go ahead.


Guinea-Bissau The pandemic had exposed and exacerbated gender inequality, activists warned.

Kenya People with albinism were forced into hiding after being falsely accused of spreading coronavirus, the World Health Organization said.

Kenya Heavy-handed policing of the coronavirus curfew was linked to two deaths in one of the country’s poorest slums.

Nigeria Journalist Saint Meinpamo Onitsha was detained under the country’s cybercrime act for his reporting on a temporary coronavirus isolation centre damaged by bad weather.

South Africa There was a surge in violence against women as the state lifted restrictions on the sale of alcohol impose during lockdown.

Tanzania Rural community banks faced financial strain as members struggled to pay back loans and restore group capital.


US The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prohibited employees from giving interviews to the Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America, according to an internal email.

US Los Angeles police placed protesters arrested for curfew violations on a cramped bus for hours, heightening coronavirus risk.

US Despite additional coronavirus measures, the number of migrants detained at the Mexican border rose by 36% in May.

Canada Privately sponsored refugees were left stranded abroad after a government scheme was suspended. 

Chile Copper miners’ unions criticised the country’s biggest mining companies’ decision to continue operations following an “alarming” increase in coronavirus cases among workers.

Bolivia Parliament rescheduled for 6 September a general election originally set for 3 May and postponed because of the pandemic.

Middle East and North Africa

Palestine Palestinian authorities in the West Bank detained journalist Sami al-Saie, who had been reporting on their response to the pandemic.

Iraq Authorities used the pandemic to shut down an ongoing anti-corruption protest movement, a report by Human Rights Watch concluded.

Egypt Mohamed Monir, a journalist who had criticised the government’s handling of the pandemic, was arrested.

Israel The Shin Bet security service halted mobile phone tracking of coronavirus carriers, an official said.

Lebanon Undocumented Ethiopians continued to seek shelter at their embassy in Beirut after losing their jobs because of the pandemic.

Climate and environment

Australia Government plans to deregulate environmental permits as part of a post-pandemic economic programme could lead to an extinction crisis, scientists said.

Scotland Work to reduce environmentally harmful disposable products had been "pushed into reverse" during the pandemic, environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said.

US A group targeting environmental racism and inequality has relaunched amid the disproportionate impact that the coronavirus has had on the African-American community.

Good news

Bahrain Activist Nabeel Rajab was released from prison after four years following a decision apparently linked to coronavirus risk in jails.

Uganda The High Court ruled that the state had violated the rights of nineteen young people denied access to a lawyer due to coronavirus restrictions after police raided the LGBT shelter where they were living.

US The American Civil Liberties Union announced a class action lawsuit against police in Minnesota for arrests of and attacks on journalists covering protests, sometimes under the guise of enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.

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