(TW: Mention of Suicide, Islamophobia)
Coronavirus is understood to be all inclusive, as it affects people from all religions, classes, genders alike; the virus doesn’t discriminate between people based on their identity, but the pandemic does.
In India, the stigmatization of religious minorities is well-documented. The escalation of the Tablighi Jamaat controversy resulted in the entire Muslim community being blamed for spreading the virus. This has negatively affected their sense of well-being and Muslims across the country have been strategically demonized. They are viewed not just as spreaders of the virus but are ostracized and looked at as if they represent the virus. The pandemic has further escalated our society’s seemingly boundless hatred and discrimination towards the Muslim community. Our anxieties associated to the virus have been conflated with our inherent religious prejudices. The media screaming “Corona jihad” is only an explicit manifestation of our society’s deeply ingrained Islamophobia.
In a WIRE article, Zehra Mehdi who is a psychoanalytical psychotherapist said, “In this lockdown, you would expect a lot of people getting stressed because of being isolated socially but every second case of anxiety I have been receiving is somehow related to Islamophobia” (Thakur, Zaffar, 2020). Muslims are subjected to hateful comments, social exclusion, and constant fear of expressing their identity. The vilification of an entire religion has led to people from the minority community feeling increasingly anxious and threatened about their safety. Dilshad Muhamud, a Muslim man from Himachal Pradesh died by suicide. He had tested negative for coronavirus, but was still insulted, harassed, and socially boycotted by the villagers.
Historical and current events in which Muslims are portrayed in a negative way in the media may also play an important role in the etiology of Islamophobia. Exposure to Islamophobic elements may affect the process of identity formation in Muslim children, leading to poor self-esteem and possibly mental health conditions later in life. Muslim children and adolescents are also at a greater risk of being victims of bullying and act of aggression. These individuals may also develop impaired relationship with parents, peers, and society in general (Younus, Mian, 2019).
The majority community has always attempted to structurally deprive and distance Muslims from accessing equal resources, and have in turn deprived them of their right to live with dignity, as Muslims across the country struggle with feelings of apprehension, paranoia, and helplessness.
Research has revealed that adolescents from disadvantaged communities are at higher risk for multiple stressors (Gonzales et al. 2001). Depressive symptoms in minority adolescents are usually attributed to environmental stressors and social conditions which are linked to minority group membership (King 1991, Atkinson 1998). Minority youth believe that their dominant counterparts are unlike them in certain socio-cultural values that prevail. Their values, rituals and practices are not as evenly valued or shared, which may result in a feeling of inequality and social withdrawal. They also believe that they are restrained in their religious practices and lack freedom to express their religious beliefs. They may feel scared to practice their religion, this fear and insecurity within the minority groups is reinforced by assaults by and negative experiences with their dominant counterparts (Ahmad, R., Ayub, N., and Iqbal, S., 2012).
It becomes crucial for mental health professionals to understand the reasons for differences among majority and minority mental health, and is important for them to be empathetic towards people from the minority community. In a crisis of any form, people from marginalized and minority communities are the worst hit, as existing power dynamics and inequalities present in the society are further magnified. For those at the margins, a pandemic only worsens their struggle with mental health.
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- Mohan, Lalit. “Taunted over coronavirus spread after Tablighi meet, Himachal man commits suicide”. Tribune News Service, 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/taunted-over-coronavirus-spread-after-tablighi-meet-himachal-man-commits-suicide