Ramadan has always meant a time of joyous celebration with friends and family, the coming together in the evenings to break fast. This year, there is anxiety and fear among Nepal’s Muslims because of fears that they will be blamed for the virus. Since many Nepalis watch Hindi tv channels, some of the stigmatisation is due to the Indian media scapegoating Muslims for the spread of the virus there.
“Muslims in Nepal are a minority and have peacefully coexisted without any conflict for centuries, but now I dread the future, and the rise of xenophobia and intolerance spreading from across the border,” says Abdul Shamim, head of Nepal Jame Masjid.
In early April, 13 men from the Tablighi Jamaat living in a mosque in Udayapur tested positive for coronavirus, and 11 of them were Indian nationals who had come for religious instruction. The district has been virtually sealed off since then, and there has been contact tracing of people who they had been in close proximity with them.
Nepali Muslims on the margin, Prakriti Kandel
Najbul Nilam Khan, a rights activist in Udayapur, is worried. Although a majority of those who tested positive were Indians, locals have virtually ostracised the Muslim community there, she says.
“They try to avoid conversation and just look the other way when they see us passing by on the road, neighbours avoid any sort of conversation with us even from distance. Sometimes eyes speak louder than words,” she told us on the phone.
While world has been hit hard by the global pandemic, in India and Nepal it is mainly the Muslims in particular who find themselves bearing the stigma – largely because of the social media and tv networks stereotyping them. During such a crisis, Ramadan would have been a time for solidarity and bringing the community together, but even that is not possible because of the lockdown.