New Delhi: One of the top government hospitals in Lucknow has been asking patients if they participated in the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi in March, which was identified as a super-spreading event nearly seven months ago.
The question is part of a Covid-19 screening form that patients at Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences (RMLIMS) are asked to fill before admission. ThePrint accessed the form through the son of a 70-year-old woman, Amana Begum, who sought admission at the hospital earlier this month.
Reached for a comment, the state-run hospital said it had no discretion in deciding the questions on the form, but added that they have now removed it.
ThePrint contacted Uttar Pradesh Principal Secretary (Health) Amit Mohan Prasad for a comment but he said the matter doesn’t come under the purview of the health department. Calls and messages to UP Director General for Medical Health and Education Dr D.S. Negi went unanswered. Calls and texts to Additional Chief Secretary (Medical Education) Dr Rajneesh Dube went unanswered too.
A super-spreading event
The Tablighi Jamaat is a Sunni missionary organisation that is based in Delhi but has members around the world.
The headquarters of the organisation in the Nizamuddin area came under the scanner in March after it allegedly went ahead with an event despite the Delhi government banning religious gatherings in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Over 2,000 members, including foreigners, had reportedly gathered at the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters, the Nizamuddin Markaz, for the event.
Its members were subsequently linked to a growth in Covid cases around India. In the second half of April, the central government said 30 per cent of India’s Covid-19 cases are linked to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation.
Some sections, including in the media, were subsequently accused of seeking to communalise discussions about the event. In August, the Bombay High Court slammed the print and electronic media for their “big propaganda” against the foreigners who were part of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation. It also quashed the FIRs against 29 foreigners, noting that there was no proof to show they had violated visa conditions and propagated Islam, or were responsible for the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
The court also said they were made scapegoats.
In March, the Tablighi Jamaat had denied allegations that it had acted irresponsibly, saying its efforts to evacuate members were hindered by the lockdowns imposed at the time.
Why are these questions still being asked?
The RMLIMS Covid-19 screening form lists eight questions, of which the fourth one states in Hindi: “Have you or anyone in your family attended the Tablighi Jamaat function or been in touch with anyone who has?”
Amana Begum was taken to the hospital on 8 October after she complained of excruciating pain in her abdomen.
According to her son Shakir Ali, a staffer of RMLIMS had also initially asked him the same question as part of Covid screening norms.
“I had taken my mother to the hospital after 10.30 pm. She was in extreme pain. First, they were following protocol, but soon they asked about the congregation. My mother is old and was in extreme pain. How will people go to hospitals for treatment if they stigmatise one religion like this? Does the virus see who is Muslim, Hindu, Christian?” Ali said.
“I didn’t like the behaviour and the attitude of the hospital, so I took her to another hospital for treatment. We will get her surgery done there. It has been months since the Tablighi Jamaat event. Why are we still being asked these questions?”
RMLIMS spokesperson Dr Shrikesh Singh told ThePrint that including the question in the Covid screening form is not the “hospital’s choice”, adding that the hospital administration doesn’t exercise any “discretion” in putting up the questions.
“We have only followed guidelines and instructions given by the state, the central government and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). It’s not anything personal done by the hospital against anyone in particular,” Singh said.
There is no ICMR guideline, however, that calls for patients to be asked about the Tablighi Jamaat event.
Singh said the hospital has taken cognisance of the matter, and the question has been “removed” now. He, however, refused to answer when the question was removed and if they are still using the remaining copies of the old Covid screening forms.