Azamgarh: Rs 5,000 Reward for Info on Tablighi May Lead to Harassment of Common Muslims, Say Rights Activists
Mumtaz Alam | India Tomorrow
NEW DELHI, APRIL 17— The Azamgarh Police last week announced a reward for information to trace ‘hiding’ members of Tablighi Jamaat, but local residents and rights activists are concerned that such move will lead to harassment of even those Muslims who have nothing to do with Tablighi Jamaat and have never attended its congregation at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz or elsewhere.
After the end-March Nizamuddin Markaz tragedy, when over 2,000 people were evacuated from the grand mosque and hundreds of them were later found to be infected with Coronavirus, a nationwide combing operation was launched to trace those who attended the Tablighi congregation at Nizamuddin in March and also those who came in contact with the participants. Hundreds were traced and many voluntarily came up for screening and testing.
In their bid to trace those who attended the Tablighi congregation, the Azamgarh Police last week announced to reward Rs 5,000 to anyone who gives a tip off about the “hiding” members of Tablighi Jamaat in the district.
“We have inputs that several Tablighi Jamat attendees are living secretly at their homes. They have also developed the symptoms such as cough and cold but are not visiting hospital for testing despite repeated requests by the administration to do so,” SP Triveni Singh was quoted as saying by The New Indian Express. “I appeal to people that if they get any information about any such person having symptoms, they must share it with us. A reward of Rs 5,000 will be given to the person if the information is found to be true,” said the SP.
However, local residents are concerned that such reward announcement may lead to harassment of any Muslim in the present charged atmosphere of hatred. Some said that the announcement is about Tablighis, not just those who attended the Delhi event.
“In the announcement, the administration has called about Tablighis, not only those who attended the Nizamuddin Markaz event. Such notices will give a stamp to rumors making rounds in local areas. Here several rumors are making rounds, like these people (Tablighis) lick their fingers after having meals and this spreads Coronavirus. There was a local news here that four skull-capped people were held in Saraimir village and four skull-capped people were held in Fariha. This description fits to any Muslim, so common Muslims could be targeted. Fear is engulfing Muslim localities here due to such rumors being spread by right-wing people,” said eminent social activist Masihuddin Sanjari.
He also said: “The UP government itself had released a list of districts from where people had attended the Nizamuddin Markaz event. Azamgarh was not in the list.”
He, however, clearly said that the decision by Tablighi Jamaat to hold congregation in March amid the global spread of Coronavirus was a big mistake.
“Administrators of Markaz did a big mistake by holding the program in this time. They should have shown wisdom and postponed the program. But singling out that event is a bigger mistake now,” he told India Tomorrow.
Another local resident said that any Muslim could be targeted as Tablighi Jamaat is not an organized group which maintains list of its members. He also said the authorities should have taken Tablighi Jamaat people into confidence.
“Tablighi Jamaat is not an organized group. Such general notice will hit any common Muslims. It seems authorities have not tried to take the Tablighi people into confidence and due to the media hype some people may be afraid. The hype has created more problem,” he said.
He further said: “If it is a general notice, then anyone wearing beard and cap can be held as Tablighi. Such notice will only be misused. Police have already been conducting search for people in villages. They are questioning even those who did not go out of village. Such reward announcement that is done to catch criminals will leave an impact on society and even after the end of Coronavirus tragedy, people will raise fingers against others saying they were the people for whom award was announced. This is an irresponsible attempt by the government.”
He echoed Masihuddin in that the Markaz program should not have been held but asked why several other programs were allowed in those days.
“The Nizamuddin program was held, which was wrong, it should not have been held even though other programs were also going on in those days in different parts of the country, even the Parliament session was also going on. Even after the Markaz program, the authorities should have taken sympathetic approach instantly to control the cases, they could have prosecuted them later,” said the resident.
Tablighi Markaz People Are Victims, Not Criminals: Rajiv Yadav
Rajiv Yadav, General Secretary of human rights group Rihai Manch, said that those Tablighi people who got infected should be seen as victims not criminals.
“There is a difference between patients and criminals. There is sympathetic behavior for patients. Ideally, such behavior should also be for criminals. But here we see that Tablighi people are being presented as criminals,” said Rajiv.
He asked why such treatment was not meted out to others who came out in crowds.
“If people who attended Tablighi program are being identified and isolated and sent thorough testing, did the administration make any such announcement about thousands of laborers who came from Delhi or Maharashtra or other places? Were those who clapped and rang bell or lit diyas in crowds issued notice?”
Singling out of Tablighi people, Rajiv said, is leading to mass hatred against Muslims.
“A BJP MLA from Baghpat has reportedly said that Muslim farmers be asked to come to sugar mills between 1 am and 2 am only. He has also asked banks not allow Muslim customers. Roads leading to Muslim localities are being blocked. This is the result of state authorities mentioning Tablighis in their statements,” said the rights activist.
He is also of the view that “Tablighi Jamaat should have postponed their mid-March program of Delhi.” But he added: “At the same time, political events were being held in Madhya Pradesh, Kanika Kapoor attended parties in Lucknow. All these incidents show that we had little care and wisdom about Coronavirus in those days.”
Taking his point further, Rajiv said that the government should have announced lockdown soon after Holi (which happened on March 10) as most of the laborers were at their native homes.
“Holi was on March 10. Even before that, news was coming about Coronavirus outbreak in different parts of the world. For Holi, 70-80% Hindus come to their native homes. If ours were a conscious government, then the way it uses religious customs (thali, diya), it should have announced lockdown soon after Holi. In that case, 70-80% laborers would not have stuck in far away places. Our government is bringing stranded citizens from China and elsewhere, why aren’t these laborers being taken to their homes? If Tablighi had no sense and held program in mid-March, where was the sense of the government when packed trains were going for Holi and returning after that? Wasn’t there any Corona case,” he asked.
This is a witch-hunt: Delhi Minorities Commission Chairman
Commenting on the Azamgarh reward announcement, Delhi Minorities Commission Chairman Dr Zafarul Islam Khan said: “This is a witch-hunt. What will happen now is that even those who did not come to Tablighi Markaz or in contact with those who attended the congregation will also be implicated.”
“Just to be Tablighi or to have sympathy with Tablighi is enough for one to be targeted. For getting the reward or for revenge or just to appear as a good person, people will implicate even those who have nothing to do with Tablighi Jamaat. And such witch-hunt has gone one step ahead. Now just being a Muslim or wearing skull cap and beard is enough signs of Tablighi and people are being held. People are being beaten. When an environment of hatred is created then common people are targeted,” said Dr Khan.
He said: “There is no two opinion that those who attended the Nizamuddin Markaz gathering should voluntarily come up and present themselves for screening/testing.”
Regarding the Markaz event, Dr Khan said: “Many people and I have already said that the Tablighi Markaz should not have gone ahead with their scheduled congregation at Nizamuddin (in mid-March). The problem is that they don’t listen. They should listen to those who are aware with the global developments and have knowledge of current affairs.”
Meanwhile, in a joint letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Delhi Minorities Commission Chairman Dr Khan and Member Kartar Singh Kochhar have said that there was no conspiracy on part of the people stranded in the Tablighi Markaz in Nizamuddin area in Delhi or its leadership. “They were innocent victims of this unseen epidemic like anyone else on this planet,” they said.
Condemning the government officials and political leaders for mentioning Tablighi in their briefings, the minority panel said: “Due to the reckless briefing by government officials and sensational media coverage, general public has come to equate Tablighi people with ordinary Muslims, which is not correct. While every Tablighi is a Muslim, not every Muslim is a Tablighi. This has caused harassment of Muslims in both urban and rural areas across the country. A clear instruction may be issued to all concerned to avoid usage of vague words and descriptions about Tablighi Jamaat which has put millions of Indian Muslims to inconvenience.”