Tue 31 March 2020:
Coronavirus Lockdown Markaz Nizamuddin, which is the international headquarters of Tabilghi Jamaat for close to 100 years, will cooperate with the authorities, it said in a statement.
Authorities in the Indian capital on Tuesday sealed off the premises of Tablighi Jamaat, accusing it of organising a religious gathering from March 13-15 and ignoring the threat of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Jamaat denies allegations
Tablighi Jamaat denied accusations it had broken social distancing laws, saying it was forced to accommodate visitors stranded by the lockdown announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, with just four hours’ notice.
In a press statement, the group said: “A rumour started gaining ground across social media that allegedly people affected with COVID-19 are present in Markaz. It is also being circulated that certain deaths have occurred due to the same.
“Under such compelling circumstances there was no option for Markaz Nizamuddin but to accommodate the stranded visitors with prescribed medical precautions till such time that situation becomes conducive for their movement or arrangements are made by the authorities,” the statement said.
A case has been registered against Maulana Saad and others of Tablighi Jamaat u/s 3 of Epidemic Disease Act 1897 read with Section 269, 270, 271 and 120-B IPC for violation of government directions.@PMOIndia@HMOIndia @LtGovDelhi
— Delhi Police (@DelhiPolice) March 31, 2020
Statement further mentions, “During this entire episode, Markaz Nizamuddin never violated any provision of law, and always tried to act with compassion and reason towards the visitors who came to Delhi from different states. It did not let them violate the medical guidelines by thronging ISBTs or roaming on streets,” the statement said.
The statement said the Markaz would like to humbly offer the entire premises as a quarantine facility to help the authorities tide-over the challenge of current pandemic.
“Visitors/guests/devotees/worshippers from across the globe throng the place for pre-scheduled programmes and all the programmes are decided a year in advance in order to facilitate visitors from far-off places to plan their participation,” it said.
The Markaz said when the Prime Minister announced the ”Janata Curfew” on March 22, the ongoing programme was discontinued immediately, but a large number of people were stuck in the premises due to the closure of railway services on March 21.
The statement said the Markaz observed the ”Janata Curfew” and the visitors stayed put in the premises.
“Before the Janta Curfew could be lifted at 9 PM, the Chief Minister of Delhi announced lockdown of Delhi beginning at 6 AM on March 23 till March 31, thereby further diminishing any chances of these visitors availing road transport for their journey back home,” the statement said.
The statement said around 1500 people left the Markaz on March 23 by “availing whatever meager transport was available”.
On the evening of March 23, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide 21-day lockdown, the statement said, adding there was no option for Markaz Nizamuddin but to accommodate the stranded visitors with prescribed medical precautions.
On March 24, a notice was issued by SHO of the Hazrat Nizamuddin police station seeking closure of Markaz premises.
The Markaz responded to the notice the same day by stating that around 1000 visitors belonging to different states and nationalities were present in Markaz while 1500 had left.
The Markaz had also requested the SDM of the area to issue vehicle passes so that the remaining people could be sent back to their native places outside of Delhi.
“It is relevant to indicate here that lists of 17 vehicles with registration numbers along with the names of the drivers plus their license details were submitted to the SDM so that the stranded visitors/guests could be ferried towards their destination. The requisite permission is still awaited,” the statement said.
It said on March 27, six persons were taken for medical check-up while the next day, the SDM and WHO team visited the Markaz and 33 persons were taken for medical checkup to Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Hospital.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had previously been criticised for the manner in which Modi announced the lockdown just hours ahead of it being imposed.
The timing of the announcement left hundreds of thousands of migrant workers stranded in cities, forcing many to attempt to walk hundreds of kilometres to their villages. Pictures of stranded workers showed Modi’s government in a poor light.
The congregation at Markaz Nizamuddin has since provided an opportunity for BJP government supporters to attack Muslims for spreading the virus.
Soon after reports of the gathering hit the headlines, the hashtag #CoronaJihad trended on Twitter, with many tweets blaming Muslims for the spread of coronavirus in India.
Videos, images and text messages shared on social media appear to show crowded Muslim gatherings and police attacking Muslims for defying coronavirus orders or offering namaz (prayers).
Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, tweeted that the incident “will become a convenient excuse for some to vilify Muslims everywhere, as if we created and spread COVID around the world”.
Many people on social media also pointed out that similar gatherings by people of majority faiths did not attract such prompt attention by authorities.
Two days after the Tablighi Jamaat congregation, a large number of Hindu pilgrims gathered in Maharashtra’s Sai Baba temple.
Days later, in the central Madhya Pradesh state, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the ruling BJP took an oath as the chief minister surrounded by a large crowd, ignoring Modi’s message of social distancing.
A day after Modi announced the lockdown, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, had organised a group religious ceremony in Ayodhya town in an apparent violation of lockdown rules.
‘Diversion from migrants issue’
Writer and journalist Saba Naqvi told Al Jazeera the Tablighi incident has given the right-wing government and the media a diversion from the difficulties thousands of migrant workers had been facing since the lockdown began on March 25.
“For the first time, I saw so much attention on poverty or migration workers even in the media. And the Tablighi issue has allowed a diversion,” she said.
“The BJP has taken that opportunity. And it is not even a manufactured case of outrage. There was a class element so far around the lockdown. Now there is a communal element. All the horrors of India are unfolding.”