In what many are calling a case of ‘apartheid’ during the spread of Coronavirus pandemic across the globe, a government-run hospital in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad district, has segregated coronavirus patients based on their religion and admitted them in separate wards, claiming the order came from the government.
The Indian Express newspaper published on Wednesday reports as the medical superintendent of Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, Dr Gunvant H Rathod said: "Generally, there are separate wards for male and female patients. But here, we have made separate wards for Hindu and Muslim patients. It is a decision of the government and you can ask them."
As per hospitalisation protocol, a suspected COVID-19 patient is kept in a separate ward from those confirmed, as long as the test results are pending. At the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, where 1,200 beds have been set aside for COVID-19, as many as 150 of the 186 people admitted for coronavirus are positive. According to sources in the hospital, at least 40 of the 150 are Muslims.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister Nitin Patel denied any knowledge of it. Patel, as told The Indian Express, he was not aware of such a decision (on wards as per faith). Generally, there are separate wards for males and females. “I will enquire about it,” he added.
Ahmedabad Collector KK Nirala also denied any knowledge of the matter. “There has been no such instruction from our side and we are not aware of any such government decision,” Nirala added.
The question here is, when the state administration and district administration have no knowledge of the matter, then who is behind the Hindu-Muslim patients’ segregation order. The issue is really a matter of concern and a probe should be made into it that who wants to divide the country, the largest democracy in the world, on the line of religion.
Al Jazeera, an international newspaper, reports that when it contacted Jayanti Ravi, the principal secretary of health in the Gujarat government, about the segregation of patients on religious lines, her personal assistant took the call and suggested to speak to Dr Sanjay Solanki, the resident medical officer at the hospital. "I have no idea," said the personal assistant, without revealing his name.
Solanki, in turn, reportedly asked the media person to speak to Dr Gunvant H Rathod, as he is the right person to talk to. Rathod did not answer the phone calls made by reporter.
Meanwhile, Gujarat's Health Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel told Al Jazeera also that nothing of that sort had happened. "Whatever is needed to give people the best possible treatment is being done," he said and hung up.
The state's health department also put out an official statement, calling reports of separate wards for Muslims and Hindus ‘baseless’. "Patients are kept in different wards based on their medical condition, severity of the symptoms and age, purely based on the advice of the treating doctors. Therefore, reports appearing in certain media are totally baseless and misleading," it said.
However, in The Indian Express report, a patient was quoted as saying, “On Sunday night, the names of 28 men admitted in the first ward (A-4) were called out. We were then shifted to another ward (C-4). While we were not told why we were being shifted, all the names that were called out belonged to one community. We spoke to one staff member in our ward today and he said this had been done for ‘the comfort of both communities’.”
According to a doctor quoted in another report by The Hindu newspaper, "Certain patients from the majority community were not comfortable being in the same ward with patients of the minority community. After some patients complained, it was decided to segregate them on temporary basis," the doctor told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.
When an Ahmedabad-based sociologist, Ghanashyam Shah, was asked by Al Jazeera if the hospital segregating patients according to their religion amounted to apartheid, he replied, ‘Absolutely.’ "Knowing Gujarat, I am not surprised it has happened," he said.
Shah said, "It is a very obvious kind of thing. The fake news propaganda around Muslims spreading the virus is probably rampant across India. But I can see it is visible in Gujarat." He was alluding to a widespread Islamophobia fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic, especially after Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary group, organised a congregation in New Delhi in March.
The congregation was later linked to hundreds of COVID-19 positive cases across the country, triggering a nationwide hunt to trace the attendees.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization had warned against any religious profiling of coronavirus patients by the governments across the world. "Having COVID-19 is not anybody's fault. Every case is a victim. It is very important that we do not profile the cases on the basis of racial, religious and ethnic lines," WHO's emergency programme director Mike Ryan had said.
According to media reports, more than half of the nearly 500 cases of coronavirus in Ahmedabad have come from Muslim-majority neighbourhoods. The city has long been a hotbed of communal divide, with separate localities marked for Hindus and Muslims.
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