New Delhi: Religious institutions across India reopened Monday in line with Unlock 1 guidelines, but the Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah in New Delhi, an Islamic religious institution that attracts visitors of all faiths, remains shut.
The decision, authorities at the dargah say, is as much a precautionary measure as a bid to avoid a Tablighi Jamaat-like controversy.
“We are allowed to reopen, but we have decided against it for now. The crowd that will show up at the dargah might be difficult to manage and we don’t want to violate any social-distancing norms,” Salmi Nizami, member of the Nizamuddin dargah committee, told ThePrint.
“We are also wary of another markaz-type controversy. We do not want any such thing to happen as it will lead to unnecessary demonising of the community by the media,” Altamash Nizami, another member of the committee, said.
According to Nizami, the committee is planning to tentatively reopen the dargah only after 30 June.
The Nizamuddin dargah is located a stone’s throw from the markaz, the headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat, a Sunni missionary organisation, at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti.
The headquarters was identified as a Covid hotspot after it hosted an event mid-March that was attended by hundreds of participants in violation of social-distancing guidelines announced by the Delhi government earlier that month. Dozens of members who were at the markaz at the time were subsequently diagnosed with Covid-19, and they were linked to a spurt in the country’s nationwide coronavirus tally.
Even though the area has been de-sealed, the markaz remains closed.
Nizamuddin Basti was outlined as a containment zone on 30 March, and remained thus for 70 days. On 7 June, the southeast Delhi district magistrate issued an order stating that restrictions in the area will be “scaled down”, as there have been no new cases since 5 May. According to the government guidelines, an area can be de-sealed after 28 days of no new coronavirus cases.
The markaz, however, remains cordoned off, with barely any signs of life around the once-bustling building.
“This is where the hotspot emerged from, so we aren’t allowing anyone to walk around anywhere near it,” a civil defence official sitting close to barricades near the markaz said.
Dargah-linked economy takes a hit
The dargah’s decision to keep its doors closed has had a direct impact on the shops and businesses around the area, almost all of which deal in flowers and chadars (to be offered at the dargah) for worshipers.
“All our customers are people from outside the basti who come to the dargah. They buy chadars and flowers from our shops,” said Abdul Sattar, whose shop bore a deserted look Monday.
Other sellers added that they had been struggling for the past three months, since the dargah first shut down when the lockdown kicked in.
“The last three months have been horrible, with everything shut. But now that there is permission for us to function again, we were hoping people would start visiting the dargah again and we would resume earning,” said Mohammed Kaleem, another flower seller.
Local autorickshaw drivers echo the concerns.
“The local population here hardly takes autos. It’s people from other parts of Delhi, who would want to come to the dargah, who used to take our auto, so we would really like the dargah to resume operations,” said Mohammed Zameer, who has been driving an auto around Nizamuddin Basti for the last 30 years.
However, the dargah committee has said it doesn’t want to risk resuming operations until there is a “proper plan” in place.
“We have started sanitising the dargah from inside. Now, we need to chart a plan for ensuring people follow social distancing once we open the gates. All of this will take some time,” Nizami said.
‘A strict vigil’
The residents of Nizamuddin had earlier this month complained about being given “special treatment”, as the area remained sealed despite the fact that it had not recorded any new cases in more than a month.
Although the area has been de-sealed, the district magistrate’s order calls for a “strict vigil” to continue.
“The SDM (sub-divisional magistrate) will keep strict vigil in the area for the next 14 days. Further, every person of aforesaid area will maintain social distancing as well as no such person will come outside the house without covering their face with a mask,” the order states.
Although worried about the dargah choosing to stay shut, the people of Nizamuddin Basti are also “relieved” at the resumed activity, however little it may be.
“We couldn’t walk around (earlier), we couldn’t sit outside our homes and talk. It was a huge mess,” said Abdul Rehman, a 25-year-old resident of the basti.
A local grocer added, “Even though we are essential services and were operating for the past month or so, people were still hesitant to step out.”