Choosing between the devil and deep blue sea is itself a devilish business that we can hardly afford in the current situation. Therefore, I refuse to take side on the controversy over the irresponsible stupidities of Tablighi Jaamat (TJ) leadership that has significantly added to the coronavirus proliferation in India and the Modi-bhakt, ‘Godi’ media’s latest communal campaign against Indians Muslims to portray them as fifth column of the enemy across the border, a core belief of the RSS creed.
The Jamaat went ahead with its congregations in India, Pakistan, and Malayasia among other countries in south-east Asia in between late February and mid March even after mass turnout of devotees in Mecca and Medina had been stopped since 27 February in the wake of rapid spread of the corona contagion. It also sent the attendees, both Indian and foreign nationals on customary Dawah or preaching tours across the country after the Delhi congregation till the government imposed the lockdown on 24 March midnight. Given its international network, the TJ leadership should have acted on its own much earlier to postpone its gatherings, at least, the preaching missions in order to prevent the virus transmission in the states. Instead, the leadership’s activities aggregate its blind faith in irrationality as well as siege and herd mentality.
On the other hand, the media lapdogs of the current establishment is parroting what the Sangh mouthpiece, Organizer has called a ‘radical Islamic conspiracy’ against India in order to instigate another spell of communal riots. They are instrumental in finding a suitable scapegoat while deflecting commoners’ anger and worries about the loss of livelihoods and income under the prolonged lockdown and the economic ruins that would follow the pandemic.
The rabidity of these media fanatics, mostly recipients of the regime’s largesse, has even alarmed some in its system and echo-chambers. Police officials in UP denied concocted reports about TJ-triggered infection and violence attributed to the organization. BJP chief minister of Karnataka, B. S. Yediyurappa and his Maharashtra counterpart and former ally from Shiv Sena, Uddhav Thackeray also had to warn against media instigations against Muslim community under the garb of anti-TJ campaign.
Both forces represent grave dangers to Indian society as well as the larger world as the humanity is fighting against the latest strains of corona and hate-viruses. Apologists for either side are doing a disservice both to the global and national cause as well as communal harmony. The fact remains that both TJ leadership and government of India are to be held responsible for the spread of the corona contagion during the organization’s congregation at its Delhi Markaz or Headquarters/ Centre at Nizamuddin as well as its further transmission to states including Maharashtra, Delhi, Telengana and Assam. More tellingly, the sequence of events underlined the deep and widened gulf between BJP government and the Muslim community.
The Tablighi Jamaat
TJ is a mass-based but orthodox and ritualistic organization rooted in Indian subcontinent with a global reach. In its own words, ‘Tablighi Jamaat (Society for spreading faith) is a non-political global Sunni Islamic missionary movement that focuses on urging Muslims to return to primary Sunni Islam, and particularly in matters of ritual, dress, and personal behavior’’. Born in western UP in 1927, it was an offshoot of Deoband movement in the wake of Gandhi-led Khilafat agitation that had aimed at forging anti-British Hindu-Muslim amity but saw the surge of conservatives afterwards. TJ ran parallel to Hindu Shuddhi movement by Arya Samajis and Sanatanis as both sides had aimed to purge influences of other faith in Indian Islamic and Hindu beliefs and rituals respectively while protecting the converts and reconverts to their folds.
Aiming to make common Muslims follow the Hadith or sayings of the prophet Muhammad and rituals he had practiced or prescribed for his followers in their daily lives, the TJ members go for Dawah tours to preach to the community members in different parts of their countries as well as on foreign missions. They stay at local mosques to reach out the faithful as Christian or Hindu monks also do in the churches or temples of their orders.
This makes their annual congregations a prolonged affair as large group of volunteers stay in transit at their centers. Initially, it attracted anti-intellectual, conservative but pious poor and elderly who were more concerned about the afterlife. But now it also draws middle class and affluent Muslim youth as the TJ harps on ‘proper’ Islamic identity and its global ascendency, though not like more earthly and political Salafi and Wahabi schools of Sunni orthodoxy.
This year TJ went ahead with its annual country congregations across south-east Asia without bothering about the fast-spreading contagion from China to its neighborhood. It held its Indian assembly in its Delhi headquarters in between February end and mid March in presence of large number of foreign delegates who came from corona- affected countries including Malaysia and Indonesia. The Dawah tours were organized to various parts of the country and the gatherings in transit at Delhi centre continued till the government imposed the lockdown.
The chronology of events
Now that Amit Shah, the union home minister has made the ‘chronology’ or sequence of past events or future eventualities important for us, the muddle-headed citizens, the Godi media must answer certain questions about the government’s role before blaming the TJ alone. World Health Organization (WHO) had declared COVID-19 as a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ on 30 January 2020. The first case of corona infection in India was reported on the same day. WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a ‘Pandemic’ on 11 March.
Did the govt. follow WHO guideline?
What the government of India did to contain the contagion in between 30 January and 11 March? Why the international travel ban was not imposed by February following the rapid spread of the virus in our neighborhood and Europe as suggested even by some BJP leaders like Subramanian Swami? Did it follow the WHO guidelines to focus on the foreign and Indian nationals who flew in India from China and other affected countries? Did it go for their intensive screening and testing as well as mandatory isolation/quarantine and treatment of the flier-carriers of the virus as the WHO had insisted?
Did the process include those TJ members from Indo-China and south-east Asia who had flew in India in February end to early March to join the Delhi congregation? Why did the TJ men from Malaysia and Indonesia were allowed to come in when a Kuala Lumpur mosque assembly in end February had already became known as the hotspot for Covid-19 cases in the country and its neighborhood? How could the infected persons or suspected carriers escape the Indian government’s dragnet? How did the Centre which control police in national capital region fail to keep tab on the large number of foreign nationals who had reportedly entered India on tourist visa but joined a religious congregation and moved around?
What happened before the Lockdown
According to a Scroll.in report, a Thai national who attended the TJ meet in Delhi fell ill at the Coimbatore airport on 13 March and died three days later. Meanwhile, India had begun screening of all international passengers at airports. Delhi government banned gatherings of more than 200 people but there was no specific order on in-house religious meets. However, it banned all public meetings of more than 50 persons, including religious congregations on March 16. But there was neither any official communication to the TJ nor any public awareness campaign was launched on the impending danger by the Delhi or Union government before March 19.
Telengana and Tamilnadu recorded six and two positive cases respectively among the attendees of the TJ Delhi meet in between March 18-21. Union Home Ministry informed states about the TJ meet participants only on 21 March. All international commercial flights were cancelled on 22 March along with the 14-hours long ‘Janata Curfew,’ 10 days after WHO had declared the pandemic.
The prime minister further declared total lockdown on 24 March night at three and half hours notice. Centre invoked Disaster Management Act 1897. All state borders were closed for non-essential travel and transport.
Delhi Police issued notice to the Jamaat asking them to evacuate the Markaz. Jamaat claimed that 1,500 had already left and about 1,000 are in the premises. It also claimed to have sought administrative help to evacuate the stranded but alleged that officials did not respond in time. The officials, in turn, blamed the TJ leaders.
But photos showed that the attendees were wearing masks and maintaining distance when they were boarding buses on their way out of the Markaz, either on their way to government’s screening centre or during their dispersal to states. It is not clear whether they took the precaution on their own or were egged on by the administration. But the result is compliance with the basic guideline even if it was too late.
Total lack of political dialogue
Total lack of political and social dialogue between the ruling Hindutva regime and Muslims led to deployment of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval for domestic law enforcement for the second time since Delhi riots. He went to Nizamuddin to convince the TJ officials on Covid-19 screening on March 29. Next day, Nizamuddin area was cordoned off. Cases were filed against TJ leaders on 31 March. On March 31, the Delhi Police registered a case against Maulana Saad and other TJ officials. According to the Republic TV, the chief platform of the Godi brigade, the case has been filed under sections of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 and Section 269, 270, 271 and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code which denotes criminal conspiracy.
In the FIR, it has been stated that the congregation failed to take safety measures for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. The Health Ministry ‘revealed’ that 30% of the total COVID-19 cases in India were linked to the TJ congregation. The Ministry added that it would have taken 7.4 days for the number of cases to double instead of the current 4.1 days if the TJ function had not taken place, the Republic report said.
Holier than Thou?
But the conspiracy theorists who have found a bogey in TJ calling it a part of the ‘corona Jihad’, even a ‘corona holocaust’ in India while turning its Delhi Centre a ‘corona factory’ must explain why Pakistan authorities too had to face the troubles with TJ assemblies in the wake of the corona outbreak? They also need to answer why biggest Hindu shrines from Vaisno Devi temple in the north to Tirupathi temple in the south and Mahakal temple at Ujjain to Kashi Viswanath temple at Baranasi in the middle India were teeming with devotees till the lockdown. Why Yogi Adityanath went ahead with his Pujas before shifting of Ramlala idol to mark the beginning of the construction of the grand temple at Ayodhya only few hours after the PM’s announcement of total lockdown?
We also witnessed the Bhakts’ repeat performances of dancing, shouting and cracker-bursting on the roads in response to the PM’s calls to show national unity. Did it underline the majority’s better grasp of the rational thinking and scientific temperament? Actually, fact remains that all religious denominations tend to fan beliefs in divine saviors at the times of great calamities. VHP and its allied Sant Samaj had asked Hindus to obey the lockdown but chant Lord Rama’s name 108 times a day to ward off the coronavirus. And, the merchants of death and hatred who exploit commoner’s faith to kill people in the name of Ram or Rahim, Christ or Buddha — the old hands who trigger mass hysteria against the ‘enemy within’– find their business thriving at these trying times. Pervasive fear and despondency make the people more vulnerable to such dirty tricks. Like all pandemics in history, these evil forces are now working overtime across the world to harvest the corona pandemic too.