Nizamuddin, where otherwise the elite of Delhi come to buy organic produce at
the masterfully refurbished Sunder Nursery, and where distinct class lines
separate the well-heeled in the east of the neighbourhood from the more
ordinary dwellers of the west, the images are now straight from dystopia.
being used by municipal employees to spray disinfectant during a sanitisation
drive on day nine of the 21-day nationwide lockdown at Nizamuddin West, New
Delhi, April 2, 2020(Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)
I was on
the ground over the past two days to make sense of how the Tablighi Jamaat — an
orthodox, missionary Islamic movement — came to be a major virus vector for
India. The facts reveal gross, even criminal, negligence by the Jamaat. They
highlight a series of grave lapses by and sloppiness on the part of many other
key players in the system.
watched doctors from the World Health Organization wade into the congested
alleys of the mosque area and patiently evacuate Jamaat members in the
hundreds, I shuddered just a bit, at the callousness and carelessness that has
brought us to this point.
easily have been prevented. To understand how the contagion spread from the
congregation that collected at the Markaz (centre) between March 13 and March
15, you have to first understand what happened in Malaysia in February. The
Tablighi Jamaat, launched in Mewat in 1927, now has a following in over 150
countries. It is a non-political, but orthodox clergy that calls for Muslims to
return to Islam as it was practised at the time of the Prophet. About 16,000
people collected at a Tablighi Jamaat meet in Malaysia. It was from this that
the coronavirus infection first spread across six countries in Southeast Asia.
this, Jamaat representatives from the coronavirus pandemic-hit countries such
as Indonesia and Malaysia were able to make their way to India for the annual
congregation in March, bringing the virus with them and spreading it among the
Indian Jamaat members, and then from there to multiple states across the country.
ground, the Jamaat leaders I spoke to defended themselves by arguing that the
moment Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a “Janata curfew” (people’s
curfew) and the Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, issued a notice saying
no gatherings of more than 50 are allowed, they reached out to the police and
local administration for logistical help in getting the foreigners out. A trail
of letters has been released by them that do indeed document this attempt.
is no explanation for why the March 13 order by the Delhi government, which
stipulated that no more than 200 people should gather in one place, was
flouted. There was also an absence of basic civic responsibility. By then, the
coronavirus threat was known globally, Saudi Arabia had suspended
congregational prayers in other mosques in the country except Masjid al-Haram
and Masjid an-Nabawi, in Mecca and Medina, and the Malaysia congregation had
proved to be a virus spreader. It should not have needed an official order to
know that to proceed with a gathering of thousands, packed together in a small
area, was a terrible idea. “We woke up late,” admits advocate Mujib Rehman, the
lawyer for the Jamaat. “So did everyone else.” But he showed no regret for the
Jamaat’s colossal mistake, nor was he able to give any explanation for Maulana
Saad’s bizarre sermon in which he suggests that “if you’re dying, the mosque is
the best place to come and die in,” as people can be heard coughing in
The role of
the police is also bewildering. The local station virtually shares a wall with
the Markaz. The police maintain a register at all times of who goes in and out
of the mosque. Why did they not step in way earlier? The video released by the
Delhi Police, shows the local officer issuing an aggressive warning to the
Jamaat, as of March 23. There is no answer for why the police did not try and
do this before the congregation.
do hundreds of foreigners collect at a mosque at a time like this without the
Intelligence Bureau, the home ministry and the external affairs ministry in the
loop? It’s now clear that given the scale of the spread, travel visas for
foreigners needed to have been suspended way earlier than March 12. And, in
general, religious congregations should have been banned across religions,
across India, in February.
Tablighi Jamaat’s whataboutery is adding insult to injury. Equally, using the
indisputable negligence of the Jamaat to smear Indian Muslims at large is
unacceptable. Terms such as “corona jihad” are being mainstreamed by some of
our media networks, making troll speak a respectable language.
leadership must be held accountable. But hundreds of people who attended the
congregation without knowing any of this need to be urgently encouraged to come
forward and disclose their identities to government agencies. This will not
happen if they fear stigma and other consequences.
be enough time for apportioning blame. But it is self-destructive as a nation
to get locked in some banal, toxic, Hindu-Muslim debate when there is the
future of an entire nation at stake.
Headline: From Nizamuddin, on the
ground, the story of the Tablighi Jamaat
Source: The Hindustan Times