Post-truth India a Brand New Republic

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Forensic officials arrive at Nizamuddin Markaz to conduct an investigation, during the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, in New Delhi, Sunday, April 5, 2020.

The Covid-19 cases are scaling new heights and death roll, too, is making new records. However, the bogey of the Coronavirus spread is still arbitrated to Jamaat Markaz. Both the Government and the Markaz are locking horns with claims and counterclaims on fixing the responsibility of the spread of deadly virus and it is unknown if this acrimony will be given a decent burial.

Syed Ali Mujtaba | Clarion India

UNION Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy made a written statement in the Rajya Sabha on September 21 that the Tablighi Jamaat’s congregation in March was the reason for coronavirus spread to “many persons” in India.

The Minister deliberately chose to remain silent on the exact number of the corona cases that could be linked to the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters or ‘Markaz.’ This was because a miniscule figure of less than 5,000 may have a negative impact on the government when the spread of coronavirus is reaching astronomical heights in the country. It could also have shamed the government that supervised over the anti-Jamaat, anti-Muslim hate campaign built in the wake of the outbreak of the pandemic in India.

Since the Union Minister has deliberately chosen to remain silent on the exact number of corona cases, it generates curiosity among those who are following this event since the beginning, as to what could be the exact figure of the virus spread directly linked to the Jamaat’s headquarters?

It is with this intention an exercise in mental jugglery is being done here to find out the exact number of the virus spread that has origins with the Tablighi Jamaat’s event at its Markaz in Delhi.

There are some clues that come from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and attributed to the Health Secretary, Lav Agarwal, who then told a press conference that approximately 30% of the 14,378 Covid-19 cases reported in April were related to a single source that is the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz.

The numerical deduction of 30% of the 14,378 gives us the figures of 4,291 that can be linked to the Jamaat headquarters. However, when this figure is further analysed, then there is a lack of clarity as to how many people were full blown-up cases, mild cases or were asymptotic. So the exact figure of the Covid cases linked to the ‘Markaz’ from such figures cannot be deduced correctly.

So, in order to arrive at a figure that can give the answer, we have to take another route to know the exact number of the virus spread from the Markaz.

This time, we dissect the statement made by Minister G Kishan Reddy in the Rajya Sabha. He said that 2,361 Tablighi Jamaat members were evacuated from the ‘Markaz’ on March 29, 2020.

This figure of 2,361 Jamaat members tell us the story that those who were evacuated from the Markaz were not the super spreaders of the virus in any way. And from these figures, we cannot deduce that how many of them were corona-positive as all the 2,361 evacuees were quarantined or were sent for treatment.

So, again, we are stuck at the fundamental question as to how many people were linked to the Jamaat Markaz that may have passed the virus to others and that also has resulted in many positive cases.

In the absence of official figures, it would be obvious to pick up figures from Tablighi Jamaat sources that say some 1,500 members had left the Markaz before March 21, 2020 to different places in India after attending the congregation in Delhi.

Tablighi Jamaat people donate blood plasma to other corona patients.

In such a case, there were 1,500 people that can actually be tagged as super spreaders of coronavirus. This is because these were the people who had left the complex after attending the event and gone to different parts of the country. They were also supposedly the ones said to have taken the infection with them, thus transmitting it to others.

However, among them how many were having Covid-positive symptoms is unknown. This is essential because only those with positive symptoms can be called a spreader of coronavirus.

This brings us to the fact that there must be less than 1,500 people who can actually be called super spreaders of the virus. But, again, what could be the real figure? In the absence of any reliable statistics, only thumb rules can be applied to get nearer to the truth.  So, if we apply the rule of half, then we arrive at the figure of 750 people who can be assumed to have positive symptoms and could be virus spreaders.

Again, what could be the actual spread among people to whom they passed the virus? Assuming that these 750 people may have contacted a maximum of 5 persons each, we can reach the figure of 3,750. So this is the figure that can be assumed that can be linked to the single source. However, for those who remain unconvinced, we can stretch the figures further and peg it to 5,000 cases but not beyond. So, we can safely conclude that the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi was responsible for the maximum 5,000 cases in the country.

So, if that is the truth, then the Junior Union Home Minister’s statement in Rajya Sabha was misleading. He deliberately evaded the fundamental question about the number of corona cases linked to the Markaz. The Minister’s remark that “many persons” were affected by the Tablighi event was just an endorsement of the dominant narrative that surrounds this episode. His answer certainly lacks the credibility that was expected from a Union Minister.

In this context, it would be apt to revisit the March timeline of the event organised at the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz in New Delhi.  It’s necessary to state here that such programmes were organised round the year at the Markaz and a time-table and a calendar are prepared well in advance.

In such programmes, Jamaat members from India and from abroad come to take part at the Markaz in Delhi. The members, after attending the programme, normally travel to different parts of the country in batches. They spend about 40 days in their spiritual journey at different places and engage in prayers purifying their body and soul from all worldly temptations.

This year also, as its routine activity, the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz had organised many events in March. These events went on till 21 March, when curfew was imposed first in Delhi and then nationwide lockdown announced on the midnight of March 24. Thereafter, everything came to a standstill and some 2,361 Tablighi Jamaat members were stranded on the Markaz premises. They were later evacuated on March 29.

Union Minister G Kishan Reddy has a different take on this. He told the Rajya Sabha: “As reported by Delhi Police, despite guidelines and orders issued by various authorities in pursuance of the outbreak of covid-19, a huge gathering assembled inside closed premises over a protracted period of time and without any semblance of social distancing or provision of masks and sanitizers. This also caused the spread of Coronavirus infection amongst many persons.”

The blame game as to whether the Government or Markaz is responsible for creating a hotspot of coronavirus can only be settled through the courts. However, the fact remains that it was the Government that allowed the foreign Tablighi Jamaat members arriving at the airport to go to the Markaz without the mandatory health check-up. This went on till mid-March, when the Government blew the corona bugle that the novel virus had arrived in India.

Secondly, the Central government, as early as March 18, knew about the presence of coronavirus at the Markaz. This was found when a few corona cases were detected in Tamil Nadu and Telangana that originated from the Markaz in Delhi. In such a case, why didn’t the Government swing into action at once, and pre-empt the events that happened later?

Tablighi Jamaat HQ at Nizamuddin.

It is for sure the members stuck on the Markaz premises were unaware of the presence of coronavirus in their midst. It was only when symptomatic corona cases started becoming visible and health workers were pressed into service that they came to realise the real danger. However, even then, they were not allowed to leave the premises and it was only on the midnight of March 28 they were finally evacuated.

This discussion assumes significance because now the timeline has changed from March to September. The covid-19 cases are scaling new heights and death roll, too, is making new records. However, the bogey of the coronavirus spread is still arbitrated to Jamaat Markaz. Both the Government and the Markaz are locking horns with claims and counterclaims on fixing the responsibility of the spread of deadly virus and it is unknown if this acrimony will be given a decent burial.

This discussion further assumes significance because from the third week of March, a media trial started in the country, vilifying the Tablighi Jamaat members and the entire Muslim community for the spread of the virus.

The anti-Tablighi Jamaat, anti-Muslim rant continued all through the April in the media. These rants were full of canard and hate against the Muslim community. All and sundry were seen on TV Channels debating coronavirus spread and accusing Tablighi Markaz for knowingly organising the event. The debates also indulged in Muslim bashing for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Corona Jihadi was the word invented by the media then for the Tablighi Jamaat members. The entire Muslim community was looked down upon as it was responsible for the spread of the virus. The inflaming hate campaign against the Muslims built through the media trial generated genocidal tendencies and an atmosphere of communal disharmony was created, where Muslims became susceptible for ethnic cleansing.

Actually, the media trial against the Muslims for the spread of covid cut open the underbelly of India from where Hindu supremacists oozed out bashing Muslims, Islam and calling them names like Corona Jihadi.

This media trial had a repercussion on the ground situation as well. Some innocent Muslim vegetable and fruit vendors were targeted by the Hindu hate-mongers. These Muslim daily bread-earners were confronted with slurs and intimidation, beaten up and humiliated. There were cases of physical assault and even lynching being reported when the hate campaign against the Muslims was being orchestrated.

This discussion also assumes significance as it puts the Government in the dock because all these developments were taking place under the watchful eyes of the custodians of the Constitution. Behind the corona-Jamaat linkages, is the labyrinth that unmasked the forces behind the anti-Muslim campaign? It also revealed how the media could be egged on to create Islamophobia and the communal divide in society. It also unmasked the Government’s intentions towards the Muslim community in India.

Here, it would be pertinent to quote the Aurangabad bench of Mumbai High Court judgment that explicitly says that Tablighi Jamaat episode is a Government vendetta against the Muslims for their involvement in the protests against the Citizen Amendment Act and the National Citizen Register that took place earlier in the year.

The treatment meted out to the Tablighi Jamaat members by the Government was a warning to the Muslim community that if they ever dare to protest again against the Government, they will face the same wrath as the Tablighi Jamat members were facing now.

In other words, Article 19(1) (a & b) of the Constitution has no meaning left in India now under the present Government. All these things point towards the fact that it’s a post-truth India and a brand new republic.

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