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Global Pandemic: India Fights a Different War
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
With coronavirus carnage gripping nearly entire globe, many countries have declared a national emergency and/or lockdown to fight this extremely potent and invisible enemy causing Covid-19 disease among human beings; but for India, it is a different battle because here the Union Government is simultaneously facing multiple challenges and threats due to the common enemy and as well as multiple other antagonist agents and adversaries out to make use of every opportunity to let down the country and embarrass the political ruling dispensation in spite of the fact that they are taking every possible measure and steps to control the epidemic in such a vast and densely populated country with a rather weak health and sanitation infrastructure when compared to the US and Western European countries. In India, some political parties also see in epidemic an opportunity to shine their politics that took a setback and nosedive only less than a year ago in the parliamentary elections.
Having given a reference to multiple threats in the previous paragraph, the first one is, of course, the common enemy in the form of Covid-19 disease. The other major challenge is the traditional opposition led by the Indian National Congress that seldom finds any merit in any action or measure taken by the Bhartiya Janta Party led government even in the matters involving the common national interests. Another surprise and significant factor during the current crisis has been the activities of the Tablighi Jamaat, a section of Muslim population, who is already contributing to over one-third of total known corona positive patients and the major challenge to trace all suspect members scattered all over country and put them in quarantine or isolation to prevent further spread of disease. Yet another factor to reckon with are irresponsible politicians, pseudo-intellectuals and liberals, and biased media-persons, who are out to prove government’s concern about jamaatis as an attempt to create Islamophobia and communal divide in the country. The last but not the least, the epidemic has also pushed the country towards economic recession along with US and many other European countries.
With constant watch and preventive measures taken in the country, it looked like as if everything was within control and it will be possible to defeat coronavirus in India till 25th March 2020. Then the surprise development of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Nizamuddin markaz came in light with upsurge of coronavirus cases in various states across the country. The subsequent developments have revealed how the irresponsible conduct of a single missionary Islamic organization have cost dearly threatening the life of millions on people in the country in almost every Indian state and most of its members are not even apologetic about this. During the last two weeks, they have not only created health hazard but also through their misconduct at the isolation and quarantine facilities, they have thrown a major challenge for the administration, police and health workers to deal with them. Perhaps India is the only country worldwide, where many members of a community want the disease to spread and cause havoc on majority population.
Worldometer of Corona Spread
As can be seen from the comparative growth of coronavirus cases, China from where the virus originated was at the third spot in world ranking about a fortnight back with US and Italy as emerging epicentres of the disease in the Western hemisphere. Now in just 14 days, US and four Western European countries have forged ahead of China both in terms of total number of patients as also number of deaths and the virus spread apparently gone out of control; UK is only marginally behind China in terms of total number of cases but in significant loss of life it is much ahead of China. The worst victims of coronavirus are now US and major West European countries like Germany, France, Italy, Spain and UK, and some other countries like Switzerland, Belgium and Netherlands not listed here, while China has almost fully recovered and, in fact, has been observed celebrating in Wuhan and other Chinese cities with life coming to almost normal. The neighbouring South Korea have drastically controlled the disease while India is currently seen struggling with the virus spread despite lockdown for almost three weeks now, largely thanks to conspiracy or carelessness of the Tablighi Jamaat and some other members of the community. The only effective mantra against this virus appears: social distancing, social distancing and social distancing!
What is Tablighi Jamaat?
Tablighi Jamaat is a conservative Islamic missionary organization which supposedly preaches Muslims to return to practicing their religion as it was practiced during the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad, particularly in the context of Islamic rituals, dress code and personal conduct. It is believed that the Jamaat has its presence in over 150 countries across the globe with estimated number of followers around 80 million with its large following and presence in the South Asia. In India, the Tablighi Jamaat was established by Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi in 1927 in the Mewat region, as an offshoot of the Deobandi Islamic movement. The jamaat’s present chief is Muhammad Saad Kandhlawi with headquarters at the Nizamuddin markaz in Delhi. Reportedly, they had organized an ijtema in 2018 at Aurangabad, India with a massive gathering of about four million under the same Maulana which significantly boosted their popularity and prospects worldwide.
Due to the orthodox nature, the Tablighi Jamaat has often been criticized as being retrogressive organization keeping women strictly subservient and second string. On many occasions in the past, they have been accused of extremism and terrorism too although they deny such links. Jamaat has often been found intolerant even towards the fellow Muslims who do not subscribe to their version of Islam. According to Alex Alexiev, Tablighi Jamaat is the largest group of religious proselytizers of any faith as also the reason for the explosive growth of Islamic religious fervor and conversion. In his own words “Tablighi Jamaat has always adopted an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam… it has radicalized to the point where it is now a driving force of Islamic extremism and a major recruiting agency for terrorist causes worldwide. For a majority of young Muslim extremists, joining Tablighi Jamaat is the first step on the road to extremism.” In the past, the Jamaat has been linked with the Taliban movement. Michael Heimbach of FBI too traced their link to al Qaeda for recruiting. In the past, several members of the Jamaat were charged with terrorism and terrorist plots and attacks worldwide.
Tablighi Jamaat Linkage with Spread of Coronavirus Disease in India
During March 2020, the Nizamuddin faction of the Tablighi Jamaat organized an Ijtema (religious congregational program) in Nizamuddin markaz, New Delhi in every week till 21st of the month. In view of the growing Covid-19 disease threat, the Delhi Government had banned any mass gathering – seminar, conference or event – including religious functions on 13 March but the order was ignored by the Jamaat and the concerned government too failed to strictly enforce it, although there is recorded evidence that police authorities constantly tried to persuade them without success. It has also been revealed now that a large number of Tablighi members from the foreign countries too attended the congregation in utter violation of visa rules in that they actually came on tourist visa but attended religious meet on missionary activities that too without taking mandatory 14-day home quarantine in force for all travellers from abroad.
Tablighi Jamaat became a national news towards the end of March on 26 when the administration and police formally intervened and started evacuating the members present in the markaz building, many of whom had already tested corona positive and taken to hospitals for treatment while all others to different quarantine and isolation facilities. While the markaz authorities had admitted in camera presence of about a thousand Tablighis inside the building but more than two thousand members were actually evacuated, during which many of them misbehaved by spitting on police and health workers. It is believed that their source of infection were preachers from Malaysia, Indonesia and other Islamic countries; many of the attendees had returned to their respective states and had also provided refuge to foreign preachers in different masjids and other places without the knowledge of state governments. At the time of evacuation, at least 24 attendees had tested positive for the virus and another 300 people showed symptoms but the number significantly grew with time. The data released by the Health Ministry in the first week of April showed that 1445 out of total 4067 cases were linked to markaz attendees.
While many detractors have raised questions on the conduct and competence of Delhi police in failing to stop large congregation of Tablighi Jamaat, video recordings and other evidences suggest that though the police could not take any drastic measure in view of the sensitivity involved but they constantly contacted and warned markaz authorities about the illegal gathering and risk of disease but they continued their activities unabated at least till 21 March despite Delhi government’s prevailing order not to have any gathering exceeding 200 people. In the aforesaid context, the contents of audio tape of the Tablighi markaz chief Saad Kandhlawi dated 18 March are self-explanatory:
The entire country has been put under strict lockdown and the outbreak has been declared an epidemic in more than a dozen states and union territories invoking the provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. All educational institutions, leisure spots, business activities and majority commercial/manufacturing establishments have been shut down. Operation of all international and domestic flights, railways and road transport has been suspended and borders of states and districts sealed. All religious places and such gatherings have been complexly stopped. The country has suspended all tourist visas including those of OCIs, because a majority of the confirmed cases were linked to other countries. Going by the current trend of the disease spread, the 21 days lockdown effective from 24 March onwards is likely to be further extended. Notwithstanding this, reports are constantly coming from all parts of the country about the misdemeanor of the members of the Tablighi Jamaat and violation of lockdown by unlawful assembly in masjids and other public places.
Conspiracy or Carelessness!
As can be seen from the aforesaid “extract” of audio tape of the Nizamuddin markaz chief, he considers that the Covid-19 disease has been chosen by Allah, therefore, he is asking people not to take any preventive or precautionary measures. The gatherings in masjids should be held as usual and it would be virtuous act to die in such religious place. In yet another sermon, he said that the ongoing lockdown and restrictions imposed in the country are a conspiracy against the jamaat members to keep them away from their religious duty and social interaction, which should not be abided by them. Of course, after police action to flush out jamaatis from the markaz building, yet another audio tape has appeared now asking people to comply government instructions including social distancing and such other measures. While a case has been registered against Maulana Saad and other markaz authorities, Maulana has now gone into hiding while some 2,361 people were evacuated between March 30 and April 1 from the markaz building.
As of 6 April, more than 25,000 Jamaat members and their contacts had been quarantined across nearly 15 Indian states. Of the existing coronavirus victims in India, between 35-40% patients belong to Tablighi Jamaat alone. The seriousness of this menace could be measured from the fact that the southernmost state Tamil Nadu was almost corona free till last week of March 2020 but now the state has 969 patients as on 12 April, and of this tally, most people belong to Tablighi Jamaat. In state capital Delhi, on 10 April alone as many as 183 patients was reported on one day, and of this record 154 belonged to jamaat only. Seriousness of the situation could be fathomed from the fact that, currently, approximately 65 percent of the total corona poistive cases belong to the members of this jamaat in Delhi. According to the spokesman of the Union Government at the Joint Secretary level, the current doubling rate of the coronavirus patients is 4.1 days at the national level but if additional cases reported due to the Tablighi Jamaat had not happened, then the doubling rate would have been 7.4 days.
The first case of coronavirus was reported on 30 January in Kerala’s Thrissur district in a student returned from Wuhan University. Two more cases were reported on 2nd and 3rd February in Alappuzha and Kasaragod districts, respectively, of Kerala, and they were also students returned from Wuhan, China. Ever since there hardly any other cases reported in the month and as on 2nd March, India still had only five coronavirus patients. By 15 March, this number rose to 110 and several precautionary and preventive measures were put in place by the Union Government and respective state governments, including avoidance of large public gatherings. The number of confirmed cases increased to around 600 by 25 March and after declaration of national lockdown for three weeks on 24 March, the fact of unlawful congregation of Tablighis at Nizamuddin markaz became public on 26 March raising alarm and concern nationwide. Thereafter, the total number jumped to 1834 confirmed cases just by 1st April, of which more than one-third belonged to the jamaat members.
During the first few days itself, several serious complaints about the conduct of the Tablighis came in light from the facilities where they were put in quarantine or isolation. For instance, the Chief Medical Officer of Ghaziabad district made a complaint to Uttar Pradesh Police that the jamaat members in quarantine were walking around without trousers on, listening to vulgar songs, demanding bidis and cigarettes from the health workers and making obscene gestures towards the female nurses. He requested police to refrain them from such conduct; needless to mention soon police was detailed and female nursing staff was withdrawn. However, the Ghaziabad incident was not standalone; while being transported from the markaz building, many of them were deliberately seen spitting on various objects, roads and even on police personnel. We all know that this virus spreads through human contact, and human sneeze and saliva carry high risk potential for the spread of disease.
Many Tablighi preachers from foreign countries had already left the Nizammuddin markaz, traveled to various states and had taken refuge in masjids; many of them were identified and sent to quarantine pending deportation or other lawful action during the last ten days or so while many others are still missing and being traced. The government has also cancelled about 950 visas granted earlier for the violation of rules. So for, maximum restraints have been exercised to deal with the misdemeanor of Tablighis sent to various quarantine facilities but such instances are not restricted merely to markaz attendees. In fact, South Asian countries including India have a large concentration of the followers of Tablighi Jamaat posing variety challenges before the administration since the trouble was first reported at Nizamuddin markaz during the last week of March. Also it appears that some community members earlier opposed to the CAA and NRC are also behind the ongoing trouble.
Earlier the teams comprised of health workers and police were chased and attacked by mobs with bricks and stones at places like Indore, Saharanpur and Ranchi districts, when they visited certain localities for routine health check of inmates. Incidents of physical assault on attending doctors were reported from Indore, Tonk and Muzaffarpur; some health workers were beaten in Raipur. Some Tablighi members even defecated in the ward in Delhi, Saharanpur and Tonk; some others collected urine in bottles which were later thrown on the road in Dwarka, Delhi. There have been several instances of spitting on doctors, police personnel and other health workers at many places including Delhi and Tuglakabad. One patient ran away from Bagpat hospital who was later apprehended after considerable efforts. Similarly, many patients have created ruckus in quarantine and isolation wards in Dehradun and Kanpur too demanding choice food and refusing tests and medicines. Many inflammatory and hateful videos against the majority community are also circulating on social media; in cases, linking the disease with Allah’s wrath against the CAA/NRC of the government. In certain instances, police cases have also been registered against the violators.
Needless to mention, thousands of Tablighi Jamaatis who attended the religious congregation at organisation’s New Delhi headquarter, now pose a genuine threat of acting as coronavirus hotspot. Many of these members admitted in various hospitals allegedly refuse to undergo test or take medicines with instances of misbehaviour with the medical staff and police. They have been advised not to spit in the hospital but they are still seen spitting on hands and then touching staircase railings and other objects contrary to advice/instructions. Female attendants have been withdrawn and cases have been registered against serious offenders. Videos have appeared on social media purportedly defying social distancing in certain areas of cities and even circulating message to spread virus to the maximum extent possible. Only a day before, a mob of defying people and goon elements attacked police party by pelting stones in the notorious Jali Kothi area of Meerut city, thereby compelling police force to take a swift and stringent action to control the trouble shooters; in some instances, cases have been registered against the violators. So it can't be merely carelessness; some misguided people in the community are doing it deliberately.
In short, the central and state governments and the majority of population is united to fight against the coronavirus disease in the country. The entire country is under lockdown with almost all activities standstill except the unavoidable essential services despite serious danger of economic loss. People are staying indoors at the cost of tremendous personal inconvenience because the social distancing is proved to be the only effective and known weapon against the invisible enemy. But then there some people and a small section of population, who are bent upon to negate and reverse the advantage accrued in account of the lockdown and social distancing. In fact, there are at least some elements in the society at large who, as part of a conspiracy, are deliberately trying to spread the Kovid-19 disease at a large scale so as to cause disaster and maximum loss to the life and economy in the country; needless to mention, such people are no less than the potential human bombs.
Role of Politicians, Liberals and Media
The political party which has traditionally ruled this country for decades could never reconcile with the role of opposition since 2015. Consequently, even in the matters of extreme national emergencies and public interests, its leaders have beg to differ and have preferred to make every effort to embarrass the ruling dispensation rather than supporting it. Accordingly, the Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi preferred to hit out at the Modi government on the lockdown for social distancing by stating that the 21-day lockdown was implemented in India in unplanned manner which has led to chaos and pain among people. On the other hand, the heir apparent Rahul Gandhi opined that the Congress needs to act as a watchdog to ensure that the poor and vulnerable sections were comprehensively protected. One Congress spokesperson in Madhya Pradesh province strongly defended Tablighi Jamaat organizers and congregation claiming none of the attendees tested corona positive. The Congress party suggested a probe to see if any rules were violated in organizing congregation but it refrained from repudiating aforesaid spokesperson or conduct of Tablighi Jamaat members.
Since 22 March 2020, the Prime Minister has addressed Indian populace on three different occasions basically requesting people to strictly follow social distancing as it appeared to be the only effective measure against the spread of disease, to appreciate the tireless efforts of health workers, police personnel and other people associated with the essential services and supplies nationwide by even risking their own life as also to lit diyas/lights for few minutes nationwide to show joint solidarity and resolve of fight against the coronavirus. While the majority people endorsed these measures and wholeheartedly participated on all occasions, the opposition leaders barring few exceptions have either stayed away or preferred to find faults with the motive and action of prime minister on all occasions. Asaddudin Owasi, who often claims to be true representative and leader of Indian Muslims, has chosen to slam the Prime Minister and media covering these events on many occasions. Notwithstanding the fact that between 35 to 40 per cent coronavirus cases at national level and majority cases in the states like Tamil Nadu, Assam and Delhi have Tablighi connections, Owasi called the Indian media as shameless and blot on journalism for reporting on Tablighi members' misdemeanor and he took it as an offence on Islam.
No need to mention any names but India has no dearth of self-proclaimed intellectuals and liberals but as it appears most of them have gone into hiding since the beginning of the Covid-19 disease crisis. They are the people who have been most vocal group in electronic and print media of this country and do not spare any opportunity to condemn and criticize the present ruling dispensation of the country. They are the people who get worried and care only if anything, even an isolated case, wrong happens with any member of the particular minority communities. Ironically, they are silent about the measures taken by the Indian government to check the disease when India is constantly receiving laurels from the experts and leaders worldwide. One or two of them chose to speak on Tablighis’ episode but once again their focus was on government’s failure to stop such a huge congregation at markaz headquarters rather than condemning their unlawful and unbecoming conduct. Of course, while the heads of states of US, Brazil and Israel chose to publicly express their heartfelt gratitude for allowing the export of ‘Hydroxy-chloroquine’ drug to their country, which is considered effective in corona disease treatment, some Indian intellectual and liberals were busy in proving how weak PM Narendra Modi is vis-à-vis former PM Manmohan Singh. It is obvious from their reactions that rather than considering it a humanitarian gesture towards other nations, they consider it as if the Indian prime minister has buckled under pressure.
Of course, the Indian journalists and mediapersons of Rana Ayyub, Barkha Dutt genre, and some others too, are not lagging behind in uncovering the corona story nationally and internationally with their traditional anti-India approach. Barkha Dutt’s spot coverage of Tablighi story at the markaz headquarters is a classical balancing act with giving enough leverage and scope to dilute the damage done by the jamaat. Rana Ayyub has been smart and prompt in publishing her Tablighi story in “The Washington Post” without wasting any time with super title “Islamophobia taints India’s response to the coronavirus”. According to her, India’s response to the coronavirus was tainted by the discrimination against Muslims and Islamophobia that has characterized the nationalist administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She reported that most people including Muslims felt that the annual meeting of jamaat was irresponsible and endangered many lives but the event has faced a disproportionate criticism and generating a cascade of vitriol as if covid-19 disease is a Muslim event, and virtually overnight, Muslims became the sole culprits responsible for the spread of the coronavirus in India. Undoubtedly, such deliberate disinformation cannot be controlled and will continue so long media groups as patrons of yellow journalism remain willing to promote such talents.
Neighbour Using Coronavirus as a Tool for Bio-terrorism
While almost entire world is under lockdown with most activities suspended, India’s hostile neighbor refuses to take hiatus, at least for the time being, in stopping terrorism and subversive activities. There are many reports from the Pakistan itself that their coronavirus patients are being constantly shifted by administration to POK (Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir) and Gilgit-Baltistan areas. Even locals in POK are agitated about the patients being moved in locked transport carriers to Mirpur city and other parts of PoK. According to military intelligence inputs, many patients with or without militant background have been brought near the launch pads close to LOC (Line of control) and Pakistan army and ISI are endeavouring to push them in the Indian side. In the first week of April, a group of five commandos of Indian Para unit were out in a difficult terrain on the trail of terrorists who had sneaked in Jammu & Kashmir’s Keran sector. There was a close hand-to-hand fight on 4 April in which five terrorists were eliminated but all the five commandos also lost their lives.
Following the aforesaid event, the Pakistani army has resorted to heavy shelling to implement their plan to infiltrate more insurgents, many of them possibly corona infected, using artillery and mortar guns. Reports have come about heavy retaliation by the Indians troops to avenge martyrdom of their five colleagues and destruction of infiltration plans of enemy in south of Athmuqam to upper Neelum valley in the areas known as terrorist hotbeds facilitating maximum infiltration. Consequently, heavy causalities to both Pakistani regulars and terrorists who were ready to infiltrate in the area have been reported in Dodhanial and Shahkot. As it appears, the Pakistan army and ISI are on a hostile mission to make use of corona infected militants and other patients as potential human bombs for bio-terrorism against India even in these difficult times.
On the eastern part too, based on intelligence inputs an alert has been sounded in Bihar province along the porous Indo-Nepal border following reports that some Muslims infected with Coronavirus might try to infiltrate with the malicious intent of spreading the infection in India. In this context, the mastermind has appeared in the name of Jalim Mukhiya from Jagranathpur village in Parsa district in Nepal, who is suspected for involvement in the conspiracy to push some infected people with Tablighi connection in the Indian territory, who will serve as human bombs to spread more infection in Indian people. Reportedly, Mukhia is a charge-sheeted criminal involved in the smuggling of fake Indian currency and illegal arms, who is currently in contact with the many members of Tablighi Jamaat stuck in Nepal since lockdown, many of them are possibly corona positive.
It is evident from the forgoing account that while all other countries of the world are engaged in a united fight as a nation against the Covid-19 disease, India is fighting a unique lone battle with so many fronts open in it’s endeavor to contain and eliminate coronavirus with minimum loss. While countrywide lockdown well in time has severely restricted corona spread, the Tablighi factor alone has contributed towards nearly fourty percent of all cases. They have not only contributed to numbers but also posed multiple dimensions and threats before the union and state governments to deal with. Then there are opposition political parties which are not ready for a truce even during the national crisis. While Indian pseudo-intellectuals and liberals have continued with their hypocrisy, biased mediapersons and journalists too are not tired of yellow journalism by tarnishing image of the country within and outside country just because the ruling dispensation does not suit their ecology. Last but not least, neighbourly Pakistan never forgets its traditional oath to inflict maximum possible pain to India by all means.
It is the same international media and hired journalists that casted aspersions on unanimous Supreme Court judgment on Ayodhya dispute delivered by the five-judges bench in August 2019, including a Muslim judge on panel, citing it a verdict in furtherance of national government’s Hindutva agenda. Now the very media and journalists are trying to justify large scale misdemeanour of Tablighi Jamaat as Indian government’s vitriol against Muslims and an attempt to create Islamophobia. Among the Indian states, Uttar Pradesh is most densely populated with about 230 million people, which is more than many big and prominent countries across the world. Its policy of identifying and severely restricting corona hotspot in cities has really worked and is being emulated by others. On date, this state has 452 corona positive cases of which nearly 55 percent are linked with jamaat members. Situation of corona positive jamaatis in states like Tamil Nadu and Delhi is even worse. Therefore, it is highly unfair on the part any domestic or foreign media group and journalists if they blame the government or Indian people for Islamophobia merely for calling spade a spade.
Measures taken by Prime Minister Modi and his government to fight coronavirus by imposing early lockdown and social distancing have been proved to be effective and most other countries have now started following it. Many world leaders and experts have appreciated Indian leader PM Modi and nation’s efforts to fight and control current pandemic and symbolically accorded India hundred out of hundred marks. India is almost catching up with China’s population and has umpteen constraints even in uniformly applying any precautionary or preventive measure across the country unlike the communist neighbor. Yet the way country has conducted itself, exercised restraint despite extreme provocations with Tablighi Jamaat alone accounting for nearly fourty percent coronavirus positive cases and considerably checked the viral growth across its length and width, I for sure accord it distinction rather than indulging in the debatable arithmetic in terms of percentage or percentile.
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