DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE
By Bikash C Paul
The Tablighi Jamaat incident in New Delhi, India’s national capital, is a sub-story in the corona (coronavirus, Covid-19) episode. Sub-story but important one. The religious congregation that followed a barrage of arguments and counter arguments, has revealed India’s communal fault lines. Muslims are the biggest losers by defending the indefensible. It seems Tablighi’s unpardonable crime was not enough and the misplaced excuses of a large section of Muslims have added further fuel to the fire.
Tablighi congregation in the heart of national capital’s Nizamuddin Markaz (centre) began on March 11 amid the shadow of death and uncertainty worldwide as a result of Covid-19. Tablighi outrightly ignored a Delhi government circular on March 16 that directed not to hold any gathering beyond 200 people. Despite the clear direction, the congregation in thousands continued with much pomp and show till the lockdown announcement on March 24. As many as 2000 people stuck in the nine-storey Markaz of the Tablighi headquarters.
No disputing the fact that the Tablighi committed a blunder. The Islamic organisation that boasts of a colourful legacy of almost 100 years had neither shown respect to the rule of law, nor cared for human lives. Further sickening was the religious bigotry of the Tablighi chief Maulana Saad, obvious from a 28-minute audio clip on its YouTube channel. What he said is not befitting to a secular polity. Maulana Saad called corona virus an “azaab” (God’s punishment) and asked his followers to attend mosques more and more. “People gathering in the mosque will lead to more infections is “baatil khayal” (falsehood),” he preached to the members. Saad also termed the government’s announcement of social distancing as a conspiracy against Muslims!
The fact is that Tablighi’s callousness cannot be defended anyway. Why Tablighi did not pay heed to Delhi government’s March 16 directive? Any law abiding citizen or organisation would have followed that. Tablighi should have cancelled the meet immediately, but it did just the opposite. The result is in front of us: As many as 30% of India’s total Corona cases are originated from Tablighi members who were in the Markaz. “Our doubling rate is 4.1 days at present. But if additional cases reported due to the Tablighi Jamaat had not happened, then the doubling rate would have been 7.4 days,” Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the union health ministry, told reporters last Sunday.
Anger among non-Muslims reaches a boiling point as the Muslims at large came out in strong defense for the Tablighi, putting all blames on the government and authorities. While a simple apology would have soothed the frayed nerves, the usual ‘victim card’ is being played to cover up the Tablighi crime. Odd, unrelated instances are floated defending the Jamaat. Small, unplanned gatherings in nook and corner of India, UP chief minister Yogi Aditya Nath’s Ram Lala idol celebration in Ayodhya are equated with the Tablighi congregation where 1,000 foreigners from high-risk countries stayed together for several days before dispersing across the country, putting India’s fight against corona at great risk.
Corona will go away sooner or later, but the Tablighi incident will have a far reaching impact on India’s daily life. As the country is polarized on communal line even in this hour of national crisis, Muslims as a community are seen as religious bigots. Defending the indefensible is a blunder that Muslims have made as a community. This has prompted many Hindus with secular mind to see Muslims as an inflexible lot who fails to look beyond own religion of Islam. The perception is gaining ground that for a Muslim, his religion comes first, nation next.
Post-Corona, Indian Muslims have a long way to walk to fight this growing thought process.