India’s External Affairs Ministry issued a statement condemning the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a federal agency, on Thursday after the group shared reports of Indian hospitals segregating Chinese coronavirus patients by religion.
USCIRF is a bipartisan agency that compiles regular reports for the federal government, advising on cases of religious persecution around the world. India has a consistent track record of persecuting religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, that has worsened under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the USCIRF’s 2019 report.
On Wednesday, the agency shared a report on Twitter from a domestic Indian publication, Indian Express, that indicated that, in Gujarat, a hospital had begun splitting hospital wards to keep Hindu and Muslim coronavirus patients away from each other. The USCIRF expressed “concern” over the situation.
USCIRF is concerned with reports of Hindu & Muslim patients separated into separate hospital wards in #Gujarat. Such actions only help to further increase ongoing stigmatization of Muslims in #India and exacerbate false rumors of Muslims spreading #COVID19 https://t.co/GXigs4w5na
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) April 15, 2020
Indian Express identified Ahmedabad Civil Hospital in the eponymous city as having begun to segregate suspected Chinese coronavirus cases by religion. The newspaper confirmed the report with the hospital’s medical superintendent Gunvant H. Rathod.
“Generally, there are separate wards for male and female patients. But here, we have made separate wards for Hindu and Muslim patients,” Rathod reportedly said, blaming the Indian government for the administrative decision. He did not provide any rationale for dividing patients by religion within the hospital or indicate that patients were receiving different treatment based on their faith.
An Indian government official told the newspaper the Health Ministry had not issued any such order and vowed to seek more information about the matter.
“I am not aware of such a decision. Generally, there are separate wards for males and females. I will enquire about it,” Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister Nitin Patel said.
A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava, issued a statement on Thursday condemning not the Indian Express report, but USCIRF for sharing it.
“As if its peremptory commentary on religious freedom in India is not enough, the USCIRF is now spreading misguided reports on the professional medical protocols followed to deal with spread of COVID-19 [the Chinese coronavirus] in India,” Srivastava said. “It must stop adding religious colour to our national goal of fighting the pandemic and distract from larger efforts. No segregation is being done in civil hospitals on the basis of religion, as clarified by the Gujarat Government.”
The USCIRF has highlighted reports of similar religious discrimination elsewhere in the region, which the Indian external affairs ministry did not note. Among those are reports demanding that India’s neighbor Pakistan respect the rights of its Hindu minority.
The Indian Express report follows other accusations of discrimination of religious minorities in India in the aftermath of Modi instituting a nationwide lockdown to control the spread of the virus. Last week, David Curry, the president of the Christian aid organization Open Doors, told Breitbart News that his charity had received reports of Indian hospitals treating Christian health workers as “disposable” using them to treat contagious coronavirus patients without offering proper protective gear.
“We have reports of Christian nurses who are being scheduled to work with the most contagious because they are considered dispensable and lower than people of other faiths,” Curry said. “These kinds of reports are flooding in and that’s why we want to draw attention to it because I think it yet again highlights the issues around persecution and how difficult it is for Christians and for other religious minorities in other kinds of circumstances.”
Modi enacted a nationwide lockdown on March 25, scheduled to last 21 days. It has resulted in significant discord in the country, including attacks on police officers and health workers, even after videos surfaced of police officers beating quarantine violators with sticks in public.
In early April, a mob of 100 people formed in response to the arrival of health workers in Madhya Pradesh, central India, and attacked the workers, hurling stones and other projectiles. The locals, as has occurred in many parts of the developing world during disease outbreaks, did not trust the workers to not infect them. Last week, a police officer had his hand cut off with a sword after stopping a group of Sikh men and requesting their legal travel passes. The officer had his hand successfully re-attached.
At press time, India has documented 12,759 cases of Chinese coronavirus nationwide. Among those, 423 people have died.