If Arab-India relations are risked, more than the loss on the trade front, poor Indian workers will be at risk, say activists
Ordinary Indian workers are worried over religious polarisation happening in the Arab Gulf triggered by trending hate tweets from overzealous Indians and Arabs.
“We were getting some respect and love from Arab employers. Now that is also lost. Last week, my Arab employer was asking me as I am a Hindu, am I hating Arabs,” Prasanth M, a cleaner in a company in UAE, told The Lede.
“They used to call us Akhu (brother). Now they don’t,” Prasanth added.
A series of hate tweets from right wing Indians working in the Arab Gulf and India, insulting Islam and Arab women has triggered an online war.
While a couple of Indians who had posted anti-Islam content on social media have lost their jobs, many influential Arabs have taken up the right wing’s anti-Islam and anti-women narration to global platforms.
“Both #Islamaphobia and #Hinduphobia trending on social media is frightening us. The majority of us had migrated to these Arab countries for a job through which we can provide better living conditions for our loved ones at home. We toil here under harsh and exploitative working conditions already. In addition to all that, now, these so-called educated lots are creating unnecessary tensions and risking our jobs,” Prasanth said.
There are 90 lakh Indians working in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. The majority of them are low and middle-wage earners.
The Arabs started to air warnings against India and Indians when a few Indians who were working in the UAE were arrested and deported for posting anti-Islamic hate content on social media.
The UAE outlaws all religious or racial discrimination under legislation passed in 2015.
The anti-discrimination/anti-hatred law prohibits all acts “that stoke religious hatred and/or which insult religion through any form of expression, be it speech or the written word, books, pamphlets or via online media.”
The legislation mainly aims to fight “discrimination against individuals or groups based on religion, caste, doctrine, race, color or ethnic origin.”
Some of the Indians who were working in UAE and had posted anti-Islamic content were fired from the job.
Many in India and other parts of the world started a social media campaign in support of the fired Indians, which eventually pushed the issue to a different level.
And the social media posts by right wing Indian Twitter handles even gave a communal colour to the Coronavirus spread, which provoked Arab academics and royal family members.
Many Arab lawyers, poets, and even a few from Arab royal families joined the online discussion.
These discussions moved to atrocities faced by the Indian Muslim community in India.
Mejbel Al Sharika, a Kuwaiti lawyer and Director of International Human Rights announced in a tweet to voluntarily adopt the cause of Indian Muslims at the United Nations Human Council in Geneva.
He has also called upon Indian Muslims to help in documenting the evidence of violence.
Princess Hend al Qassimi of the Sharjah Royal Family, warned a Twitter user after he put out several tweets targeting Muslims over the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a tweet later, she posted that, “Gandhi was loved, lived long & died a hero. Gandhi lives on the lips of Indians & non-Hindus like an Arab princess who learnt about him in a book a few years ago. Hitler was feared & died like a rat in the sewers. He had a system, but it was inhumane & unsustainable. Your choice.”
Columnist of Kuwait’s Al-Anba news Dr Mohammed Al-Sharika tweeted supporting Indian Muslims and urged international communities to take action to save lives.
In a series of tweets, Abdur Rahman Nassar, an intellectual from Kuwait, called to stop the “terrorism” fuelled by Hindu right-wing group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) while maintaining that the group does not represent all Hindus and many Hindus are humanists and reject injustice.
In another tweet, Nassar said, “Every year, more than 55 billion $ are transferred to India from the Gulf countries, and more than 120 billion annually from all Muslim countries.”
UAE’s Guinness World Record Holder Suhail Al Zarooni also said in a tweet that the UAE has hosted and interacted with many communities of various religious backgrounds, so it can never support any element which disrespects any sentiment of any religion.
Additionally, a 2015 tweet by Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya, which he later deleted, has gone viral it in the wake of outrage from the Arab world over Islamophobic remarks by Indian nationals.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a fake tweet was circulated in Oman claiming that Mona Fahad Mahmoud Al Said, assistant vice chancellor at Sultan Qaboos University, has threatened that if the Indian government does not stop the persecution of Muslims, then one million workers living in Oman may be expelled.
Later on, Mona stated that the viral tweet was by an account impersonating her.
“I have confidence in all of you that you would strengthen awareness of practices which are unacceptable by the Omani society,” Al Said posted, adding her official accounts on Instagram and Twitter.
The Indian ambassador to Oman, Munu Mahawar, personally thanked the senior Omani academic for issuing a clarification.
Bahseer P, a long-time resident in Oman, told The Lede that he was surprised to see a tweet from Mona threatening to deport Indians from Oman.
“Being here in Oman, I knew that she will not make such a hate statement. But it's very hard to verify things. Good that she clarified that its some rogue element which had aired that fake tweet,” Basheer said.
“Such incidents reveal that there are some miscreants are trying to fish in muddy waters. We should be more cautious,” he added.
Finally, on April 20, the Indian envoy to the United Arab Emirates, Pawan Kapoor had to post on Twitter that India and UAE share the value of non-discrimination on any grounds.
“Discrimination is against our moral fabric and the Rule of Law. Indian nationals in the UAE should always remember this,” he tweeted on Monday.
After the Indian envoy in UAE issued a statement, more Indian missions in the Gulf have joined in, urging the Indian community to remain vigilant against attempts to sow religious divisions.
The Indian embassy in Qatar on Tuesday posted screenshots of two Twitter accounts, which had the same display picture, but had different names; one of them claimed to be based in the Gulf kingdom.
The Indian embassy in Doha posted, “Please understand the reality and do not get swayed by these malicious attempts to sow discord. Our focus right now needs to be on COVID-19.”
Similarly, the Indian embassy in Oman also took to Twitter on Wednesday to highlight the need to stay focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic and “not get distracted by fake news on social media with malicious intentions.”
Asserting that relations between India and Oman were based on “shared values of tolerance and pluralism”, the embassy’s Twitter account posted, “Let us all commit to maintaining unity and social harmony at this critical juncture. As PM @narendramodi said: We are in this together.”
Meanwhile, Rafeek Ravuther, a migrant rights activist in India, said that such hate tweets will put migrants at risk in the Arab Gulf countries.
“Day by day, it is being proved that the world is one. Man is dependent. Nobody can stand alone claiming race, colour, religious supremacy. Arab countries need us and we need them too. So we should not be immature. It will harm our opportunities,” Rafeek said.
“There are nine million Indians in the Arab Gulf. The majority are low paid workers. Why do they migrate? They migrate to support their families in India. They remit around $80 billion annually, which is some two times higher than FDI. They support our economy. If we take Kerala’s case, the remittance is Rs 2 lakh crore. And there are 30 lakh Keralites in the Arab Gulf. If the situation goes out of our hands and we are being forced to quit the Arab world, then we are in trouble. Do we want that?” Rafeek asked.
“Only mutual respect and understanding will help communities to grow. Anything other than that will pull us down,” he said adding that if Arab-India relations are risked, more than the loss on the trade front, prospects of poor Indian workers there will also be put at risk.