Looking for Scapegoat: Tablighi Jamaat – Prof Ram Puniyani

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People who showed Coronavirus symptoms being taken to various hospitals from the Nizamuddin area in New Delhi. — PTI

The way large section of media presented this lapse of TJ as a deliberate ploy, an organised attack on India by Muslims, is despicable. It has given the grist to the mill of rumour mongers and hate generators to intensify their dirty game of dividing the society along religious lines. A lot of damage has occurred due to these rumours which have strengthened the Islamophobia ruling the roost from last couple of decades. It has worsened the prevalent demonisation of Muslims in India

PROF RAM PUNIYANI | Clarion India

AS India is under lockdown, we see the attempts to contain the Coronavirus. With over four thousand reported cases and over one hundred forty deaths, India is shaken to the core and it seems life will not be the same again.

What is more worrying in India is that the mistake of one religious organisation, Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) is being projected to be the cause of the present tragedy, by large section of media, and large numbers of despicable hate messages on social media have intensified against the Muslim community. The result is that many Muslim truck drivers are being beaten and are forced to leave their trucks in Arunachal and other states.

The TJ is not a political organisation. It has small following among a section of Muslims though it was founded nearly a century before. Its focus is on practicing Islam as was done at the time of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Their focus is not on conversions but to make Muslims come to the path, which they think is the real Islam. Their main focus is not on this World but life hereafter, in Hell (Jahannum) or Heaven (Jannat).

Today as per some estimates nearly one third of affected cases in India are due to the lapses committed by TJ. They had organised an event in Markaz Nizamuddin, their head office in Delhi, on March 13-15. It involved the participants from other countries and many states of India. Prior to this a similar event was held in Malaysia from which many participants carried the virus. Most likely those who attended this event and later came to attend Delhi event might have been the source of the spread.

It goes without saying that those coming to attend this event from abroad must have made prior preparations, including the permissions, visa from the Government of India among others. They did not sneak in illegally. The TJ head office in Delhi is a stone’s throw away from the police station, which generally keeps itself abreast of the goings on in this head office. The whole episode needs investigation, as the FIR has already been lodged against Maulana Mohammad Saad, the chief of this organisation, who is currently under quarantine.

Initially, in the face of this Corona threat, he reportedly told his followers that there are 70000 angels who will be protecting the community and that even if a good Muslim has to die, better to be in a mosque. This initial irrational statement in a way defied the logic of public health norms. Soon he rectified himself and stated that “I am in self-quarantine in Delhi as advised by the doctors and appeal to all Jamaat members wherever they are in the country to follow the directives of the law”.

While TJ has supposedly a criminal role in spreading the virus, a bit of understanding of chronology will tell us that the lapse of TJ, is part of the big lapses which magnified the tragedy in our country. Surely one recalls that in Mid-February the Coronavirus (CV) was declared as a global threat by WHO, and a warning was given to put the airport screening in place. The initial cases of the CV in India were from the international travellers who visited or entered the country as the airport screening was started much later, in early March.

On March 13 two significant events related to CV took place here. One was the statement by Lav Agarwal of Ministry of health that CV is not an emergency in India. The second was that Delhi Chief Minster put out a circular that as per laws regulating epidemics, the assembly of more than 200 will not be allowed. Three days later he went on to issue another circular restricting the number to 50. So, when the Ministry of health official is stating that it is not a national emergency at that time the TJ meeting was on. At this time the major mistake on the part of TJ was to violate the circular restricting the Assembly of more than 200 people, and this is the lapse on the part of TJ leadership.

Later on, the Janata Curfew was declared on 22 March and National lockdown on 24th March. On 21 March the rail transport was stopped. This is when those in Markaz got stranded like many other pilgrims in different parts of the country. It may sound whataboutery but definitely the threat of CV has not been taken seriously even by WHO and more so by the concerned authorities in India.

The lapse has been not only by TJ, many religious organisations and many political programmes openly flaunted the social distancing norms. Mistakes done by others does not exonerate TJ from its lapse. The problem is to single it out from all the lapses on the part of the system means a sort of targeting.

The way large section of media presented this lapse of TJ as a deliberate ploy, an organised attack on India by Muslims, is despicable. It has given the grist to the mill of rumour mongers and hate generators to intensify their dirty game of dividing the society along religious lines. A lot of damage has occurred due to these rumours which have strengthened the Islamophobia ruling the roost from last couple of decades. It has worsened the prevalent demonization of Muslims in India.

It is heartening that United Nations has warned against targeting people on the ground of religion or race. It is reassuring that Chief Ministers of Kerala, WB, Andhra and Maharashtra have denounced this hate mongering and appealed for the communal amity in these difficult times. It is in these crises that our unity as a country will help us stem the tide and restore peace and well being in times to come.

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Ram Puniyani is an eminent author, activist and former professor of IIT Mumbai. The views are personal and Clarion India does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.

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