New Delhi: The organisers of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area have come under criticism from BJP and AAP leaders for going ahead with the 13-15 March gathering of around 2,500 people despite the Covid-19 crisis.
At least 10 people, including 9 Indians, who attended the meet have died of coronavirus, with over 400 hospitalised with Covid-19 symptoms. The organisers, however, have defended themselves, citing a 13 March Union Health Ministry statement that said Covid-19 wasn’t a health emergency.
Delhi BJP MP Gautam Gambhir said in a tweet that the “wrong action” of the organisers “could lead to a disaster of gigantic proportions”.
What were these people gathering at Nizamuddin thinking? Is it a joke that the entire country is under lockdown? One wrong action by anyone of us can lead to a disaster of gigantic proportions!
— Gautam Gambhir (@GautamGambhir) March 30, 2020
BJP general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh and party spokesperson Sambit Patra also slammed the congregation, with the latter terming it an act of “criminal negligence”.
Markaz in Nizamuddin , Delhi becomes new hot spot of #CoronaVirus. Over 400 people there in illegal congregation of Tabhlegee Jamaat there. No of positive cases may be significantly high .People have travelled to all parts of the country from here. #IndiaFightsCorona #Nizamuddin
— B L Santhosh (@blsanthosh) March 30, 2020
This is indeed criminal negligence
कुछ की गुनाह की सज़ा पूरे देश को भुगतना पड़ेगा!! https://t.co/pAm1d4t1JW
— Sambit Patra (@sambitswaraj) March 31, 2020
Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, has ordered an FIR against the maulana who led the congregation.
AAP MLA Atishi questioned why the congregation was held when the Delhi government had banned gatherings of over 200 people on 13 March.
Strong action should be taken against the administrators of the Nizamuddin Markaz who organised a 3-day religious gathering, with 1000s of people from 13th-15th March, when Delhi Govt orders had expressely forbidden gatherings or more than 200 persons on 13th March itself pic.twitter.com/n0f1rLE5Xx
— Atishi (@AtishiAAP) March 31, 2020
“Moreover, notification by Delhi Govt on 12 March stated that anyone with a travel history from Covid-19 affected countries has to self-isolate, then why did the administrators of the Markaz not ensure isolation of residents coming from those countries?” she said.
AAP MLA Amantullah Khan said Tuesday he had tipped Delhi Police off about the presence of around 1,000 people at the Nizamuddin complex and questioned why they didn’t make arrangements to evacuate them.
23 मार्च को रात 12 बजे मैंने DCP South East और ACP Nizamuddin को बता दिया था कि निज़ामुद्दीन मरकज़ में 1000 के आस पास लोग फसे हुए हैं, फिर पुलिस ने इनको भेजने का इंतज़ाम क्यों नही किया।
— Amanatullah Khan AAP (@KhanAmanatullah) March 31, 2020
‘No grand annual congregation’
The Tablighi Jamaat sect has its international headquarters at a 100-year-old mosque complex, which has a six-floor dormitory, in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area. At any given time, this complex, Markaz Nizamuddin, houses several hundreds of followers.
Talking about the 13-15 March congregation, Rehman Mujeeb, an advocate with the Tablighi Jamaat, said it “wasn’t some grand annual congregation as is being made out to be”.
“The headquarters has the capacity for 12,000 people. There were around 2,500 people in the congregation at the time,” he told ThePrint.
Between Sunday and Monday, nearly 200 people were reportedly evacuated from the complex by district authorities after developing Covid-19 symptoms. The area was also cordoned off. A cleric who had attended the event had died in Srinagar last week, while six similar fatalities were reported from Telangana Monday.
According to a statement issued by the organisers Tuesday, “Visitors/guests/devotees/ worshippers from across the globe throng the place for pre-scheduled programs lasting for no more than 3-5 days… (and) decided a year in advance in order to facilitate visitors from far-off places to plan their participation”.
The organisers defended themselves against charges of ignoring advisories, saying they had approached the local administration for safe evacuation but weren’t provided help.
They said in a statement Tuesday that they had evacuated “hundreds” after the event got over on 15 March but the process stalled following the lockdown announcement the next week.
“When PM Modi announced the ‘Janta Curfew’, for 22 March 2020, the ongoing programme in Markaz Nizamuddin was discontinued immediately, however due to sudden cancellation of rail services across the country on 21st March 2020, a large group of visitors who had to depart by way of railways got stuck in the Markaz premises,” he added.
The organisers said the lockdown announced by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal from 23 March to 31 March further diminished “any chances of these visitors availing road transport for their journey back home”.
“Under such compelling circumstances there was no option for Markaz Nizamuddin but to accommodate the stranded visitors with prescribed medical precautions till such time that situation becomes conducive for their movement or arrangements are made by the authorities,” they added.
The organisation claimed they approached the local authorities “multiple times” seeking transport assistance.
“We requested the subdivisional magistrate for vehicle passes multiple times, to allow the remaining attendees to leave. But to no avail,” Mujeeb told ThePrint.
The organisers also cited a 13 March health ministry statement, which said coronavirus was not a health emergency.
“If till 13 March the government didn’t tell us how big a problem this will become, why are we being slammed? It is their ill-planning.”