– Reshma Ravishanker
A paragraph referring to the Tablighi congregation in Delhi during the Covid-19 pandemic in a microbiology textbook prescribed for MBBS medical students has led to a war of words among medical practitioners and students. While some claim that it’s Islamophobic, others, in support of the authors, have termed it unwarranted criticism.
In the textbook titled ‘Essentials of Medical Microbiology’, prescribed in accordance with the Medical Council of India’s competency-based medical curriculum for MBBS students, reference is made to the Tablighi Jamaat religious congregation during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic as the authors trace the history of the spread of the pandemic in India. The book is authored by Dr Apurba S Sastry, an associate professor in the department of biology at the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry and Dr Sandhya Bhat, a professor in the department of Microbiology at Pondicherry Institute of Medical Sciences, Puducherry.
One of the chapters under the section ‘Situation in India’ (As of August 2020) states, “Subsequent to the Tablighi Jamaat a religious congregation that took place in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Matkaz Mosque in early March 2020, there was an explosive outbreak of Covid-19 occurred with >4,000 cases.”
A medical practitioner and founder member of Human Solidarity Foundation, Dr Aqsa Shaikh has posted an excerpt from the book published by Jaypee, The Health Sciences Publisher on social media, alleging that it attributes the sudden rise in the number of Covid cases to the Tablighi religious congregation. “The ministry has acted in a biased manner in this matter for political gains. As medical experts and authors, we expect better from our medical authors. These books shape the knowledge and views of future generations of doctors and we cannot allow misinformation to pass and go unchecked,” says Dr. Shaikh, an associate professor of community medicine at Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, who adds that this is a standard textbook used by MBBS students and referred to by students pursuing post-graduation in microbiology and MSc Microbiology.
Following the social media outrage, the authors issued a statement stating that their intentions were not to create hate towards any particular community. “The intention was only to convey the epidemiology timelines, nothing else. The same way, medical literature addresses other epidemiological time points of various infectious diseases, for example as Cholera and Leptospirosis spreading following Kumbh Mela etc.” The authors have also said that the paragraph will be changed in the third edition of the book.
Dr. Apurba clarified that his intentions were not to promote hatred towards any religious community. “I am just a teacher. There was only a mention about the congregation with no hatred towards any community. I do not want to be involved in anything that promotes religious bias. Once we realized that it hurt the sentiments of a community, it was immediately corrected for the editions going for print now. I have also apologized and wish to be left out of this,” he said.
Meanwhile, former students and colleagues have extended their support on Facebook and said that the book is a comprehensive guide. “He is a gem of a teacher. We do not see any wrong intentions from his side,” reads one of the messages.
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