The recent outbreak of Covid-19 has made the mightiest countries of the world to kneel before its grotesque form. Unfortunately, India is not lagging behind as the number of patients getting infected by this virus is rising exponentially with each passing day. Central Government, along with the Governments of each State is trying every bit against all odds to prevent the spread of this virus and to ensure that the country doesn’t enter the third-phase, i.e. Community transmission. All the efforts will be in vain if we as a common citizen of this country won’t perform our moral obligation, i.e. to behave as a responsible citizen. The crisis prevailing not only demands the citizens to maintain social distancing but also to stand together with the unity of brotherhood and communal harmony.
Communalisation of Covid-19: Was it required in tough times like these?
Who would have thought that the Covid-19 will manage to get the best of both the worlds— “Communism in China and Communalism in India”. The furious rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country is being given a communal colour by a considerable section of the society by inculpating the entire Muslim community for the religious congregation that took place in Delhi from 13th March 2020 to 15th March 2020 which resulted in a sudden outburst of the virus. Social media and News Channels are flooded with profoundly repulsive communal phrases and fake videos, thus apparently showing the Muslim Community in a bad light. Consequences of such dissemination of news are social boycotting and there have been incidents where a particular individual is being socially boycotted. This ultimately strikes the Right to live with Human dignity enshrined under Article 21 and as the basis of same is the only religion, thus being discriminatory it violates Article 14 as well.
As the situation is already tendered ever since the communal riots of Delhi, it is unvarnished truth that such dissemination of messages and news with communal angle has stiffened up the situation and will only trigger communal abhorrence, thus undermining the communal harmony enshrined in our constitution. Attaching the outbreak of this disease with any particular ethnicity or community is not allowed under the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization(WHO) as well. An organization of Islamic scholars has already filed a petition in the Supreme Court on 6th April 2020 seeking action against media communalising the issue. Another petition has been filed in the Supreme Court on 14th April 2020 against the use of Communal Hashtags in social media.
It should be borne in mind that it’s not just Tablighi Jamaat that acted in the spread of Covid-19, as when we talk about the world at large there lies a role of other religious activities as well in enabling the spread of Covid-19. The Christian cult group led to the rapid spread of Covid-19 in South Korea. Another example being the Sunnis group in Malaysia led to major cluster in South-East Malaysia. But in India, the irresponsibility done by the particular group resulted in the generalisation to hate and blame particular community as a whole. It is a time for humanity to unite and come together but instead irresponsibility of one group is being exploited by another communal group in order to communally exploit the pandemic.
Making certain Fundamental Duties legally enforceable: Need of the hour?
Aurangabad Bench of Bombay High Court recently while hearing a suo moto petition has said that: “Some citizens are even indulging in acts of disturbance of social and communal harmony, In such a situation, this is the right time to remind ourselves the fundamental duties of a citizen”. Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Duties are two faces of the same coin. In the words of Salmond, it can be said that when the right is given to the person then it is assumed that certain duties are also imposed on him. The right has its corresponding duties, but citizens while showing concern towards Fundamental Rights often adopt a cynical attitude and forgets that the Fundamental Duties are as important as Fundamental Rights. Such behaviour of citizens must be considered beyond the pale.
There are a total of eleven Fundamental Duties set out in Part IV-A under Article 51-A of the Indian Constitution, of which the relevant one in the present scenario is: “(e) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities”. The crux of the matter is, that the Fundamental Duties by its very nature are non-justiciable, which means the Indian Constitution doesn’t provide for their direct enforcement as they are mere moral obligations. Therefore, the citizens do not show serious concern towards them as there are no legal sanctions attached. Nevertheless, they can be made legally enforceable by the Parliament through enacting relevant legislation, hence providing for the appropriate punishment or penalty in case of their violation. Verma Committee on Fundamental Duties of the Citizens (1999) identifies the existing enactments for the enforcement of Fundamental Duties, few of them are: The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 which legally enforced the clause (a) of Article 51-A; The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 which legally enforced the clause (g) of Article 51-A; Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 which legally enforced the clause (h) of Article 51-A in the time of Disaster.
There has also been an indirect invocation of Fundamental Duties by the Supreme Court in numerous occasions. Supreme Court in the case of A.I.I.M.S. Students Union vs A.I.I.M.S. & Ors. has observed that the Fundamental Duties are the collective duties of citizens as well as state, in the sense as the state must ensure by various sanctions and legislations that citizens abide by these duties. In another case of M.C. Mehta vs Union Of India And Ors, Supreme Court has observed that under Article 51-A(g) it is the duty of the Central Govt. to ensure that the lessons on protection & improvement of natural environment shall be made a compulsory subject in college education. Apart from this indirect invocation by the Supreme Court we also have various laws for the indirect enforcement of the clause (e), but it is the need of the hour that specific legislation must be enacted for the direct enforcement of the communal harmony and common brotherhood amongst religious diversities, specifically in the situation of crisis like this which demands a unity amongst all the citizens. Not only the duty to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood must be legally enforced, but the legislature may ponder on giving other duties a legal character too as the situation demands. For instance, there has been a lot of incidents of damage to public property and violence during the Jat Reservation agitation in 2016. Therefore, Parliament should also ponder on enacting specific legislation for legally enforcing the clause (i) of Article 51-A which talks about safeguarding public property and to abjure violence.
There is a trend in India to give every mishappening a communal angle, the sudden outburst of Covid-19 is no different. It is agreed that the consequences of the religious congregation that took place in Delhi assisted in the spread of Covid-19 in India, but it is also dangerous to paint the whole community in bad line at such crucial time period when it becomes important to cooperate with the Government and scientific guidelines. It has to be admitted that the pandemic does not consider or even targets any particular religion, caste or nationality. India is a secular country as secularism being enshrined in the Preamble, thus forms a part of the Basic Structure of our Constitution. While we show a serious concern towards Fundamental Rights, we often forget that there is a moral obligation upon us to fulfil the Fundamental Duties. We can only have a working Constitution if we fulfil these obligations and these obligations, i.e. Fundamental Duties are very much essential for building a nation. The Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz, from where more than 1000 positive cases of coronavirus have emerged, would be a legitimate topic of utmost concern in any country. Even then the manner in which it was cynically exploited to stoke communalism, on social media and TV channels, had this primary motive i.e. to give a communal colour to the fight against coronavirus. Therefore, it is need of the hour that certain moral obligations shall be converted to legal obligations by enacting legislation, so that if in future such situation arises, we as a nation shall be seen standing together with united efforts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ayushi Pandey is a fourth-year BA.LLB (Hons.) student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies(GGSIPU). Her subjects of interest are Constitutional Law, and Intellectual Property Rights. She aspires to work for the rights of women at district and village level and work for the education of young girls in these areas.
Digvijay Singh is a fourth-year BA.LLB (Hons.) student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University. His subjects of interest are Constitutional Law, International Law and Intellectual Property Rights.