India’s super spreaders

by April 7, 2020 0 comments

At a time when the Union and State Governments and institutions are working with the single determination to contain COVID-19, the Tablighi Jammat has turned out to be a spoiler

The latest estimates of the Union Health Ministry indicate that over 35 per cent of the COVID-19 cases that are springing up in the country have their origins in the conference organised by the Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic evangelical movement, in New Delhi in the second half of March, which was in gross violation of State Government orders. At a time when the Union Government, State Governments and every national institution is working with single-minded determination and focus to contain the pandemic that has affected over a million patients globally and claimed over 50,000 lives, the Tablighi Jammat has turned out to be a spoiler.

Displaying gross irresponsibility by flouting the orders of the Delhi Government, the Jamaat held a conference of thousands of its members. The congregation continued even as devotees were barred entry in the most popular temples, including the Balaji Temple in Tirupati, the Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai, the Sai Baba temple in Shirdi, the Dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer and the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. Lakhs of other temples, churches and religious places remained closed as per Government orders in their areas.

Also, it is said that probably for the first time after the birth of Christianity, churches around the world will be closed in the week leading up to Easter, which is regarded as the most spiritually enriching week for the faithful. Fr Filipe Neri Ferrao, the Archbishop of Goa, asked the clergy to use technology and livestream church services. It quoted him as saying: “The faithful are dispensed from the obligation of participating in the mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. In order to prevent community transmission of the virus, the faithful are advised not to go for daily mass, unless it is strictly necessary.”

If this is so with other faiths, why did the Tablighi Jamaat defy the Government’s orders? What do we do with these Muslim clerics, who lack basic civic sense, violate the law and even throw a challenge to the authorities? Also, this writer has seen several videos of Muslims violating the lockdown orders and social distancing norms and congregating in large numbers in masjids in different regions in the country in the initial days of the lockdown. This happened because these mullahs pooh-poohed social distancing and virtually laughed at the world that was groaning under the Corona epidemic.

It is now almost two weeks since the authorities suspended prayers in Mecca and Medina. Similarly, several important mosques in India have remained closed. The Kerala Governor, Arif Mohammad Khan, was the other day reciting verses from the Quran in which Allah tells the believers not to go to the mosque but to pray from home, when the circumstances are not conducive.

Yet, none of this matters to some Muslim clerics in India, who are hell bent on challenging the system time and again on the specious ground that Islam is under threat (Islam khatre mein hai). In fact, this was the theme of the address of the chief of the Tablighi Jamaat, Maulana Muhammad Saad, to his audience at the headquarters of the Jamaat. As per an audio clip of his “sermon” that is in circulation, he asked Muslims to ignore the orders for closure of mosques because there was no better place to be than a mosque.

Second, this Coronavirus scare was a conspiracy to keep Muslims away from each other and to weaken Islam. They should, therefore, not fall a prey to this propaganda. Finally, he declared that there was no better place to die than a mosque. This is absolutely horrendous. It shows that despite his long years of Indian citizenship, nothing in the Indian Constitution, the nation’s democratic and fraternal traditions has rubbed off on him. He seems so maladjusted to the nation’s secular, liberal traditions that he renders himself unworthy of the citizenship of such a great democracy.

Every word that he has uttered does violence to the core values in the Constitution and to the deep and abiding faith that all of us have in the principles laid down by our nation’s founding fathers. 

It is indeed ironical that this maulana, who delivered this chilling advice to his audience and even said no one can escape from the wrath of Allah, has in recent days gone into hiding. It is so sad that all this bombast does not equip him to face the mundane authorities of the Delhi Government.

Meanwhile, JP Nadda, the president of the BJP, rightly exhorted his party colleagues to ensure that the sins of the Tablighi are not pinned on the entire Muslim community. He has advised them to ensure that this does not become a communal flash point. This is very important. We must sift the wheat from the chaff. It is also important that Muslim political leaders must speak up. Unlike the Hindus, who have hordes of objectors in their ranks against fundamentalists and fringe elements, Muslim politicians hesitate to call out those who threaten the nation’s secular fabric. They must change tack if they wish to preserve the Constitution that enables politicians of all hues to be elected to public office.  

There are trouble-makers like Maulana Saad and some other clerics. If we wish to preserve our Constitution and protect the health of 1,300 million citizens, such people must be dealt with in the most severe manner. Just when we thought we were getting to grips with COVID-19, the maulana and other leaders of the Tablighi have triggered a monumental spread of the disease. The Government must send out a strong message that those who play around with the lives of millions of citizens, will be made to pay.

The Indian Penal Code (Sections 168-170) deals with persons, who commit nuisance and spread epidemic diseases, but the punishments under these sections are too mild. The Government must go beyond this. Several States, including Delhi, have already invoked the powers vested in them under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. 

The Delhi Government’s regulations required foreigners and persons with travel history to self-quarantine. On March 13, it prohibited assembly or 200 or more people. The Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, slashed this to 20 on March 19. Each of these orders and regulations have been violated by the Nizamuddin gathering.   

But the punishments prescribed in these Acts and even in the National Security Act (NSA) are too inadequate for this dastardly and unpardonable sin. Those who violated the curfew, behaved irresponsibly, contracted the disease and spread it to others are one category. But those who are involved in the diabolical act of deliberately spreading this disease should be classified as mass murderers. What should be the punishment for endangering the lives of millions of people and ensuring the death of hundreds of them? The Indian State needs to ponder over this.

(Writer: A Surya Prakash; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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