Church leaders and activists in India's capital have expressed dismay over the plight of Tablighi Jamaat members who have remained in quarantine centers beyond the mandatory 14-day period to stem the spread of Covid-19. Sabiha Quadri, a social worker who lodged a petition at Delhi High Court, alleged that 3,300 members of the Islamic missionary movement have remained at various quarantine centers for over a month despite testing negative for the coronavirus. “It is a total violation of human rights because, according to federal government guidelines, a suspected person can be kept at a quarantine center for 14 days during which if a person is tested negative, he or she has to be released. It is their right,” Father Denzil Fernandes, director of the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in New Delhi, told UCA News. “We are not sure why the government is failing to take appropriate steps to release Tablighi Jamaat members, but there is general feeling and fear among people that they are the ones responsible for the spread of this disease. “People are turning to the courts for justice as the government is in reserve mode. It is time that we unite irrespective of caste, creed and religion and fight this pandemic together.”
Indian media have reported that the petition has been withdrawn after the Delhi government indicated that it would release all Tablighi Jamaat members who show no symptoms. Tablighi Jamaat hosted a congregation in Delhi in the second week of March attended by followers from India and abroad. After the gathering on March 13-15, several members returned to their home states showing symptoms of the coronavirus. However, the federal government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and several media organizations alleged that about 30 percent of Covid-19 infections could be attributed to the fallout of the Muslim gathering. Religious minorities like Christians and Muslims say India has been witnessing increased religious polarization since the pro-Hindu BJP came to power in 2014. The party projects itself as the champion of Hinduism, bolstering Hindu groups to accelerate their actions to turn India into a Hindu theocratic state. In his petition, Quadri sought directions from authorities to comply with the guideline of the 14-day quarantine and to form a high-level committee to investigate the issue. The Muslim leader urged the committee to examine if the continuous confinement of Tablighi Jamaat members violates the provisions of the constitution. The petition also mentioned that several persons held in quarantine centers have written to the authorities, but their cases have not been considered. His plea also called for a committee to investigate two Tablighi Jamaat members who died in a quarantine center and to lodge a first information report. Quadri argued that the government's approach to the quarantining of Tablighi Jamaat members is arbitrary and malicious and cannot be sustained in a society governed by the rule of law. He further alleged that the Delhi government discriminates on the grounds of religion. Shahid Ali, Quadri’s lawyer, said the authorities have failed to discharge their duties, adding that they have violated the guidelines of the central government. “It is very unfortunate that some people are trying to give it a communal color. Some fundamentalists are trying to push their agenda on particular communities,” Shabnam Hashmi, founder of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), told UCA News. “It is discriminatory on religious grounds and we all condemn it. It is also a violation of human rights because you cannot keep a person in a quarantine center after the stipulated time has lapsed.”
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