The Jamaat’s representatives say that their meeting was held days before the janata curfew and that the Delhi Government itself didn’t seem serious about social distancing norms. That’s little more than an excuse.
Over 400 Covid-19 positive cases, almost a fifth of the national count, at least 15 dead, and counting — this has been wrought by the coronavirus and the criminal negligence of those who helped organise a gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat in mid-March in New Delhi. The Jamaat is no local neighbourhood residents’ group, it has a well-established organisational infrastructure, a sprawling international membership and a reach across over 100 countries. Many of the estimated 3,000 participants came from countries that had, weeks earlier, already become COVID-19 hotspots — most notably, Indonesia and Malaysia, where an earlier Tabligh meet was linked to more than 600 cases. The WHO, on March 11, had declared the outbreak as a pandemic. Yet, the Tablighi Jamaat’s organisers went ahead with their three-day meet, on March 13, disregarding a Delhi government order issued the same day prohibiting the assembly of more than 200 people. They also flouted a Delhi government notification on March 12 asking people with a travel history from COVID-19-affected countries to self-isolate. The local police station, within shouting distance of the venue, merrily looked on as hundreds poured in. The Jamaat’s representatives say that their meeting was held days before the janata curfew and that the Delhi Government itself didn’t seem serious about social distancing norms. That’s little more than an excuse.
What the Nizamuddin spread underlines, tragically, is how easy it is to unravel and undermine any multi-pronged, public health campaign against a virus that has no antidote. While the government’s role cannot be overstressed, it is incumbent upon civil society to follow the norms of responsible behaviour. The flouting of protocols by communities, even individuals, hobbles the entire country’s battle. The Jamaat’s organisers aren’t the only violators — even as, so far, their violation certainly is the most egregious. But their actions, in particular, threaten to fuel another spectre — as attempts are made by some, amid this shared crisis, to use their example to deepen mistrust, taint and tarnish an entire community.
It must be recognised that the collective battle against COVID-19 — as AIIMS Delhi’s director, Randeep Guleria, underlined in an interview to this newspaper on Thursday — “has to be won at the community level, rather than the hospital level”. Religious leaders should use their social clout, an invaluable resource in times of fear and anxiety, to empower their community and, thus, the nation. In Indore on Thursday, for instance, Muslim clerics appealed to residents of a neighbourhood to cooperate with health officials after a mob allegedly pelted stones and chased them away. The Tablighi Jamaat’s organisers, in contrast, endangered the lives of hundreds — of all faiths. The least they can do is to use their formidable network to cooperate with those who are now working to heal the damage they helped inflict.