"Police Treated Us Like Animals", Allege Foreign Tablighi Jamaat Activists Facing Trial For Visa Norm Violation
Syed Ali Ahmed | India Tomorrow
NEW DELHI, AUGUST 13—Several foreign activists of Tablighi Jamaat, who are stranded in India owing to police cases registered against them on ground of violation of visa norms, allege that they were treated like animals by the police at quarantine centres.
Narrating their experiences with the police and administration with this scribe, some of them currently staying in Jamia Nagar, said that they were pushed into rooms like hordes of animals. “They behaved with us as if we are animals and spreader of coronavirus”, several citizens of US, Australia, UK and other countries said.
Many of them also took objections to the headlines in newspapers describing Jamaat activists as carriers of coronavirus.
All of them have willingly chosen to face the trial instead of accepting offence, paying penalty and leaving for their countries, an option that was given to them by the government. Some of them had come to India on tourist visa and others on overseas visa.
Narrating his experience at the quarantine centre, Ahmed Ali, a US citizen said, “Having seen the attitude of the police and the administration, it seemed that everything was done deliberately. I, along with my family, left Markaz Nizamuddin for Chhattalal Mian in old Delhi 10 days before announcement of lockdown to live in a friend’s house. Police came to me on April 8 and took us all to Gulabi Bagh quarantine centre, saying that we were not well. I told the police that we are healthy but we were taken forcibly. Three days after we were tested for COVID-19 with an improper instrument and were informed that we were positive. Thereafter, we were taken to Wazirabad quarantine centre located in a police training centre where about 500 people were kept along with 300 Jamaat activists. The situation was horrible there”.
Ahmed, who originally belongs to Burma and left his country in 2005 for Thailand refugee camp and them migrated to US, said, “There was separate arrangement for men and women but just for namesake. We were there for 50 days. There was no cooler. Only fan was there. It was very hot”.
“Police insisted we are corona positive, doctor said we have no sign of corona”: US citizen
He said, “Again I and my family were taken for COVID-19 test in Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Hospital where no social distancing was maintained. People were mingling. Every day people were dying. But, Alhamdulillah, with the blessings of Allah Subhanahu wa Taala, we were safe. Police used to say that we were positive but doctor said we had no sign of coronavirus. We were tested three-four times but every time report was negative. When I asked the doctor for the reason for testing again and again, he said police is doing everything. There is no sign of virus in us.”
Why facing trial?
When asked why he preferred a trial despite a legal provision of accepting offence, paying penalty and leaving for his country, he said “I am a US citizen. I will not accept forcibly that I have committed an offence in a foreign land. Secondly, when there is no fault of mine why shall I accept the offence. I am fighting the case. I will prove that I am not at fault. False allegations have been levelled against us. Well before the announcement for lockdown, I left Markaz Nizamuddin. I was in Markaz for just four days (March 12-15) and lockdown was announced on March 25, so how I violated the government instructions and social distancing or physical distancing?” he asked.
Talking against the allegation that Tablighi Jamaat people did not maintain social distancing, he said it was wrong. “We were following the government direction as well as the prescribed norms of the World Health Organisation (WHO)”, Ahmed, who has been US citizen since 2010 said.
“On the basis of my first-hand experience, I say that the police did not maintain social distancing, not even in the court. The police pushed us in the packed court room”, said the US citizen, who is at present residing in Jamia Nagar area in South-East Delhi.
Ahmed was a student activist in Burma during his university days. In 1996, he supported the student movement against the military regime. He was arrested and was jailed for a day. But that could not deter his activity against the government and he continued his anti-government activity. Consequently, he was forced to leave Burma in 2005 at the age of 29. He left refugee camp in Thailand. In 2010, he went to US where he married a Burmese refugee girl. At present, he works as a technician in pharmacy section in a hospital in New York.
Arif, an Australian citizen, who reached Delhi on March 22 meeting his friends in Markaz Nizamuddin said, “India claims for having government of the people, for the people and by the people. I realize here everything is against the people.”
Police kept us in dirty room, with betel-stained walls: Australian citizen
“We were kept in a dirty room in Joga Bai qurarantine centre that was full of mosquitoes and betel stains was visible on walls. There was no air cooler except a fan. When we asked quarantine centre officials about unhygienic conditions in the room, they said that room is good. We had to live in that room for 60 days”, Arif said.
“The police took us to the quarantine centre on April 3 saying that we were not well though we all were healthy”, said Arif.
Local people and Jamaat activists made arrangement for mosquito nets for all the inmates in the quarantine centre. Non-Muslim inmates were also provided mosquito nets by the Jamaat workers. About 350 corona virus suspects were there in Joga Bai centre.
He said that there was ‘Janata Curfew’ on March 22. “We were inside the mosque. When lockdown was announced we, eight couples, were in Batla House. Men were in Masjid Noor while women were in a private apartment and we also informed the police about our movements”, he said.
“Food provided by the government at the quarantine was not sufficient for all the inmates. Jamaat activists with the help of local people managed food for all the inmates”, said Arif.
WHO protocol not followed at quarantine centres
“For one week there was no check-up for the COVID-19. When check-up was done, 40 of the inmates were found positive but not a single Jamaat activist. Everything was like a drama at the centre. WHO protocol was not followed. The government has made corona an issue. More than a lakh people die of tuberculosis every year in India. But nobody is thinking of the disease”, says Arif.
Talking about government allegations of foreign Tablighis involved in missionary work in India, Arif, who originally belongs to Chennai in Tamil Nadu and migrated to Australia a few years back, said, “Missionary people are paid. We are not paid. We are here for gaining knowledge. Many westerns come to India “backpack” in search of knowledge. They visit heritage building to see different kinds of architecture. We are also in search of knowledge. We just meet Muslims. We do not go to non-Muslims for preaching”.
Is serving food to needy people at Gurudwaras not a missionary work?
He said that food was served to needy people in Gurdwaras. “Is this not a missionary work?”, he asked. “But nobody points out this”, says Arif.
Police don’t maintain social distancing
An engineer by profession, Arif said that government blamed Tablighi Jamaat for not maintaining social distancing. “This is wrong. The fact is that social distancing is not being maintained by the police officials”, he said.
It was not quarantine, it was illegal detention
“We were in quarantine for 60 days that is against WHO protocol. It was basically illegal detention. The quarantine period is for 14 days as per WHO protocol”, he says.
He says, “The Embassy of Australia wrote a letter to the department concerned for keeping Australians in a hygienic place. We also wrote letter to district magistrate for changing the room but no response was given”.
Talking about government policy, he questioned what kind of discipline and social distancing the government was talking about. “Can Indians maintain social distancing? The question should be of physical distancing, not social?”, he observed.
In many cases, the court has delivered judgment permitting foreign Tablighis to leave India for their respective countries. But a number of Tablighis activists were returned from the airport saying that more cases were registered against them and they have to face trial in those cases.
“Supreme Court has given direction to decide the cases within two months. Let us see how many months it takes?”, says Arif.
He said when the Delhi High Court ordered to take Tablighis out of the quarantine centres, the government took five days to move them out.
Besides, two citizens of Kyrgyzstan – Talantebek and Azmat – claimed for being victimized by the police here as well as officials of their embassy. Indian government has asked them to accept their offence for violating visa rules, pay penalty and leave for their country. But their claim is they have committed no offence. When they approached embassy of their country for help, they were not attended. Finally, they have decided for trial with the financial help provided by the Jamat people.
Both nationals of Kyrgyzstan were in quarantine centre in Tughlaqabad and Wazirabad for 50 days. “During quarantine they were tested four times for COVID -9 but every time their report was negative”, they said.
There are a total of 45 foreign Tablighi activists who are willingly facing court. But they maintain that they have not committed any offence.