Beyond Evolution. In Covid-19 times, words take on an extra meaning wherein one wonders what’s beyond evolution. The virus? It’s ensuing crisis? Our response to it? Or there is no cure so far? In catastrophic times science and facts act as antidotes to fear and panic whereby medium is the message.
As India entered the 14th day of lockdown it was caught in the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz mayhem last week in Delhi’s Nizammudin area. From Delhi, its followers fanned out to other States to recruit more people for the congregation. A rolling affair that went on for days last month. Consequentially, over round 9000 Jamaat members and their primary contacts have been quarantined countrywide with over 500 confirmed corona cases and 10 deaths.
Clearly, it was a herculean task to flush out 2,000 Muslims including 1500 foreigners hiding in various mosques across States. The Delhi police have registered an FIR against Jamaat preacher Maulana Saad Khandalvi.
But the moot point is: How come such a large gathering was allowed in the national Capital? Was the Centre late to react to the developments? How did the Government fail to detect a corona virus infection hotspot? Specially as a police station exists right next to the Banglewali Masjid Markaz in Nizamuddin. How did the authorities miss the large gathering there?
Undeniably, the blame lies at the Central and Delhi Government’s doorstep. Even as the Centre clarified the foreigners came on tourist visas which does not allow them to conduct religious activities and was a violation of visa rules, it is admission of its laxity. How did hundreds of foreigners roam around the country conducting religious activities without valid visas, that too during a pandemic?
The Delhi Government issued three public notices between 12-16 March which stated any person with Covid-19 symptoms who had visited an affected country in the previous 14 days should report to officials and those who did not have symptoms but had travel history to affected countries should quarantine themselves at home. Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia had all reported cases by February first week, so was the Government unaware that foreigners from these countries had entered the city in large numbers?
Besides, why was there a four-day delay by the Centre in sharing details with States when Telangana reported its first corona positive cases on 18 March? Think. Over 2,100 including 824 foreigners were touring different parts of the country for missionary work and over 2000 were staying in the Masjid, yet, it is inexplicable why they were not evacuated on March 21 and screened for the virus. The Centre only evacuated and sanitized Nizamuddin on March 29 but the damage was done.
Pertinently, Malaysia had identified a Tablighi Jamaat event as a Covid-19 hotspot in early March. Was the Centre aware of the developments therein, given the likelihood of followers who attended the Malaysian event coming to India was high as the Jamaat is headquartered in Delhi? It is open knowledge that hundreds gather at the Nizamuddin Masjid in March every year.
Predictably, it has unleashed a war of words with the BJP accusing Jamaat of a terror attack and Corona Jihad while the NCP derides it as “irresponsible” to cover up its mismanagement of containing the pandemic and economy. Adding to the fracas Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind’s Maulana Madani says it is a “concerted campaign to vilify the Muslim community. Hindus are turning the virus into a communal issue. You can’t fight one virus by spreading another virus.” Either which way, the fact is the virus doesn’t differentiate between victims of different faiths.
What is Tablighi Jamaat? It is a religious group of preachers which focuses on urging Muslims to return to practising the basic tenets of their faith and is headquarters at the Banglewali Masjid Markaz in Nizamuddin. The idea was floated by Islamic scholar Maulana Muhammad Ilyas in 1926 in then Mewat province and is strong across the Indian sub-continent.
Unlike other Muslim Jamaats, the Tablighi works only among Muslims and has millions of members in over 180countries. It’s preachers operate from mosques who do ‘gasht’, go around neighbourhoods, interact with Muslims, invite them to namaz and ‘ijtema’ or seminars at mosques. However, many feel Jamaat symbolizes radical and regressive interpretation of Islam, and is surrounded by controversies and criticism.
This apart, another unperceived and unplanned fallout of the lockdown is lakhs of migrant workers from Delhi, Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Kerala and Bengal are now stranded on roads and in camps across the country. Worse, the authorities showed callousness and indifference wherein the only official communication that labourers received were delivered by police’s heavy-handedness and his lathi. Unsurprisingly, the Congress came down like a ton of bricks lambasting the Government for being heartless with the BJP countering, ‘stop playing dirty politics’.
Certainly, the pandemic is going to impact everyone even if they do not contract it and will leave behind a trail of political, economic, social and psychological scars wherein everyone will pay a price.
Already there is a screaming shortage of essentials across the country and distribution networks are choked as States are clueless on how to move things where it is required. Paradoxically, India has more than enough food to feed her citizens as its buffer stock of food grain is three times the mandatory requirement. Topped, by indications of a bumper crop this season.
So how does one get the tiger, goat and the bundle of grass across the river? Simply, how to move food to everyone’s plates? It’s a logistical dead-end that the Centre and State Governments are grappling with as truckers cannot find drivers and workers to carry and offload food items as they are harassed at inter and intra-State check posts. Resulting, in the farmers unable to sell their produce and warehouses becoming islands of isolation. Succinctly, a distribution nightmare on a national scale.
Additionally, there are signs of an ominous food crisis in rural areas. Most rural households across States fear they might run out of food in a few days as family members return home from cities. Retail outlets are unable to refurbish their dwindling inventories. But, the Centre and State Governments are confident of managing and resolving the distribution bottlenecks in a few days. The proof of the pudding will come in the eating.
However if and when the Centre’s decides to lift the lockdown it does not automatically mean that the pandemic can be wished away. The Government has to ensure that there is no ‘passive pandemic’ left undetected. It should draw an action plan on what needs doing and how to do it, specially when the population begins to hit the streets again.
Administratively all responsibilities to extend or later revive local or localised shut-downs would devolve on State Governments. Along-with the larger responsibilities of monitoring existing and new patients, if any. The game is prevention. Tactical actions are essential to break the chain and slow down the process of contamination with a view to identify and isolate those who are infected.
New Delhi will have to work backward to ensure that the national laxity does not return with equal force. All tactical operations to flatten the curve to prevent exponential spike. Today, any decision not to extend the lockdown, be it by the Centre or by the States or both together, needs to be accompanied by belated evaluation as to what it means at the tail-end population and the tail-end Administration. Are we geared for rough times ahead?