India was going great guns in its fight against Coronavirus till a few days ago until the Tablighi Jamaat fiasco in Nizamuddin, New Delhi came to light. This one irresponsible and callous act by a section of the Muslim community has jeopardised the whole effort of the nation in its fight against Coronavirus. Unfortunately, once again the community has invited the wrath of the nation in the aftermath of the event. Their religious or community leaders instead of being upfront in condemning the event have resorted to justifying and defending the actions of the organisers and participants. A few while agreeing that it was a mistake just dismissed it as ‘one of those things’.
This ever present defensive, self-righteous and religion-centric mind-set has cost the community dear in the past on many national issues and it is no different this time. Surprisingly none among them was really concerned about the drastic impact it had on the national effort to fight Coronavirus. It appeared to be a continuation of the approach adopted during anti-CAA Shaheen Bagh protests in Delhi and other parts of the country where protestors were encouraged to disregard advisories against the spread of Coronavirus. In Tablighi Jamaat, Maulana Saad Khandalvi, head of the local Jamaat, had exhorted all attendees to flout social distancing norms and other measures in force in the country. The logic, as enunciated by him, was that it was a conspiracy against Muslim community with a view to break their cohesiveness. Today he is on the run and evading law.
Tablighi event was a three day live in affair in a single building for thousands of attendees that included hundreds of foreigners. Some of these foreigners flouted visa norms since their tourist visas did not permit them to engage in such activities. Reportedly some were even overstaying their visa periods. The place had neither the infrastructure nor amenities for such a huge gathering. The callous and uncooperative behaviour of some of these participants, who have since been quarantined or taken to hospitals, is another pointer of their deliberate disregard towards spread of the virus. Their hostility towards medical staff and aversion to testing or treatment defies all logic. The event has set a chain reaction for spread of Coronavirus infection in most parts of the country that has resulted steep rise in the number of cases in last one week. Today, 25% percent of the total cases and 33% of the fatalities are attributed to the spread of virus by the participants of this event.
While organisers and participants of Tablighi event are guilty without a doubt, it has also to be seen as an administrative failure. Did any warning flag go up when hundreds of foreign participants were landing at Indian airports in the few days before the main event started on 13 March 2020 at Markaz? BBC has reported that the event start as early as 03 March when preachers, local and foreign, started gathering in various parts of the country. Why were the quarantine rules, already in force in March, not enforced on these foreigners? If they were quarantined but they flouted the rules then why they were not traced earlier instead of after the whole episode was broken by a television channel less than a week ago? There is a large police station at a stone’s throw from where this meet took place, what prevented the police from acting when thousands were congregating at the site? There is no doubt that a lot of heads must roll for this failure.
It may be fair to assume that activities of the Tablighi sect must be under watch of intelligence agencies for various reasons since this organisation’s antecedents are questionable to say the least. Similar events have been organised in the past also as Markaz building in Nizamuddin is the global spiritual centre for this religious movement. If that be so, was it also a failure of nation’s intelligence agencies? Or were they waiting in the background to gather more information including involvement of local sympathisers, supporters and funding channels? Perhaps their overall assessment went wrong. It is a pity that citizens will never know the answers to these crucial questions.
Sympathisers and defenders of Tablighi event have sited half a dozen other instances in last two weeks where people in the country had gathered despite restrictions in force. They question as to why no formal complaints have been registered against them. For the record, most of these gatherings were smaller in numbers not exceeding a few hundred barring the wedding function attended by Karnataka Chief Minister on 15th March and the celebrations in Bhopal after Mr Shiv Raj Singh was sworn in as Chief Minister. All of them were local events that may have lasted for a maximum of few hours at the best. In these events people were not exhorted to flout government restrictions. More importantly none of these resulted in any impact on the spread of Coronavirus. Still in all fairness, they too were wrong and therefore guilty of breaking the rules and censure is in order.
However, it may be prudent to understand that ‘not all mistakes are created equal’. Their results too are not created equal. Therefore, the reaction and punishment for all mistakes too cannot be created equal. This is a universal truth and not debatable. Deliberate mistakes aimed at sabotaging national goals or compromising battles that a nation is fighting for common good are indefensible mistakes. Tablighi event unfortunately falls under this category in the nation’s battle against Coronavirus. It is definitely wrong in principle to cast aspersions on the whole 180 million strong Muslim community for this incident. Unfortunately lack of concern for the nation in these difficult times on one hand and the overly zealous defence of this catastrophic Tablighi event on the other by most Muslim leaders in media leaves the nation no choice in this regard. This may be unfair but then so is Coronavirus for most of us.