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Indian court acquits foreigners over Muslim gathering

Church welcomes decision over Tablighi Jamaat event as India sees a rise in religious intolerance

Indian court acquits foreigners over Muslim gathering

A policemen gestures as men wearing protective face masks walk to board a special service bus taking them to a quarantine facility amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in the Nizamuddin area of New Delhi on March 31. (Photo: AFP)

A court has acquitted 36 foreigners who were charged over a Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Indian capital New Delhi and blamed for spreading Covid-19.

The 36 foreigners from 14 countries were accused of violating visa norms, illegally indulging in missionary activities and violating Covid-19 guidelines by the federal government.

The accused were citizens of the US, UK, Russia, France, Sudan, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Kazakhstan and Indonesia.

“It is a big relief for all the people associated with the Tablighi Jamaat and also for minority communities in the country who are always blamed for the government’s failure to check any mishappenings,” Father Denzil Fernandes, director of the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in New Delhi, told UCA News.

“This is propaganda by the ruling party who try to give a communal color to any incident that happens in the country and minorities are made the scapegoat for every shortcoming, which is very unfortunate in a democratic country like India.

“Our prime minister speaks about 'together, for everyone's growth,’ but in reality one community is always on the receiving end. Communal forces are always behind the minorities and they don’t hesitate to target these groups.

“Had the government been alert, things would be under control, but the federal government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was busy toppling the administration of Madhya Pradesh and with Namaste Trump [a visit to India by US President Donald Trump in February].”

Judge Arun Kumar Garg acquitted the 36 foreigners on Dec. 15 and said the prosecution had failed to prove the presence of the accused inside the Markaz premises. He noted contradictions in statements by witnesses.

The foreigners were accused of disobedience of an order duly promulgated by a public servant, negligent acts likely to spread infection of a disease dangerous to life and disobeying regulations of the Epidemic Act, 1897. They were also charged under Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

However, they were cleared of violation of visa norms, malignant acts likely to spread a disease dangerous to life and disobedience of quarantine rules of the penal code. The court said that “the prosecution has even failed to prove the disobedience of any of the directions” issued by police.

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None of the 36 had Covid-19 symptoms at the time of their removal from the Markaz.

Tablighi Jamaat, a global Islamic missionary movement, hosted a congregation in March in the national capital attended by followers from India and abroad.

After the gathering on March 13-15, several members returned to their respective states, with many showing symptoms of the coronavirus.

However, the federal government led by the BJP and several media outlets alleged that about 30 percent of the total infections in India had been attributed to the fallout of the Tablighi event.

Religious minorities like Christians and Muslims say India has been witnessing increased religious polarization since the pro-Hindu BJP came to power in 2014. It projected itself as the champion of the religion, bolstering Hindu groups to accelerate their attempts to turn India into a Hindu-only nation.

“It is a victory of a democratic country but at the same time it is very unfortunate that some people always try to give it a communal color. Some fundamentalists are trying to push their agenda on particular communities,” K. Siddiqui, editor of Hindi weekly Gulistan Samachar, told UCA News.

“We welcome the court verdict but at the same time the question always remains in our mind about the people who falsely made this claim against Tablighi Jamaat,” the Muslim leader added.

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