A Muslim protester prays during a rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi on March 23. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
A court in the western Indian state of Maharashtra has revoked a first information report (FIR) and charge sheet filed against eight foreigners who attended a Muslim congregation in New Delhi during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.
Bombay High Court said there was no evidence to show that eight Myanmar nationals who attended a Tablighi Jamaat congregation indulged in any act likely to spread the coronavirus.
The Sept. 24 verdict was the second recent case clearing Jamaatis of spreading the disease. On Aug. 21, the Aurangabad Bench repealed a FIR against 29 foreigners and six Indians who had attended the Tablighi congregation in March.
“Bombay High Court’s judgment could be seen as a silver lining when the judiciary is facing a trust deficit. It will give hope to all who believe in a secular India,” A.C. Michael, national coordinator of the United Christian Forum, told UCA News.
“The present scenario looks like there is no opposition in the country either in parliament or in public life, but the judgment on Tablighi will give a ray of hope among people that all is not over.”
Bombay High Court’s Nagpur Bench in its judgment said that prosecuting the Myanmar nationals would be nothing but an abuse of the court process due to lack of evidence to support the charges.
It said it was not disputed that they were kept in an isolation zone in Mominpura, Nagpur, from March 3-31. As they had undergone negative Covid-19 tests, there was no question of spreading infection, the court ruled. The investigating authorities acted without jurisdiction in registering the FIR, the bench said.
The Myanmar nationals were placed under arrest under provisions of the Foreigners Act, the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act. They were charged with violating visa rules by “propagating and preaching” their religion, spreading Covid-19 and not complying with the orders of a public servant, among other things.
However, the court said, the police were monitoring all their activities and they did not violate any laws as alleged by the prosecution. Compelling them to undergo a trial would cause “grave injustice.”
Foreigners visiting India on tourist visas are prevented from engaging in preaching but are free to visit religious places and attend normal religious activities.
More than 2,000 delegates attended the Muslim religious gathering in Delhi from March 1-15.
Members of the pro Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had said that Muslims who attended the conference were responsible for 30 percent of Covid-19 infections in India. Some BJP leaders even claimed the gathering was part of "corona terrorism" to spread the virus.
Navid Hamid, president of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, welcomed the Bombay High Court judgment and said it had “exposed the bias and malice of both the government as well as its pliant media.”
He added that “it also unmasked the Muslim-phobic media and its connivance with the anti -Muslim politics of right-wing forces.”
“Jamaatis were targeted with an ulterior motive and agenda to divert the country’s attention from the failure of the government to contain Covid-19,” said Hamid.
Muhammad Arif, chairman of the Center for Harmony and Peace, told UCA News that “the present government has created an atmosphere in the country where people are afraid to express their views but verdicts like this will give hope that everything is not yet over.”
He added: “The BJP came to power only because of hate politics and their only agenda is to divide people in the name of caste, creed and religion, and they have succeeded in their divide-and-rule system.
“The Jamaati case is no different as the BJP blames the Muslim community for every failure. They are targeted for everything — the failure of government projects, schemes and other things.”
India has been witnessing increased religious polarization since the pro-Hindu BJP came to power in 2014. It has projected itself as the champion of Hindus, bolstering Hindu groups to accelerate their action to turn India into a Hindu-only nation.