Media propaganda against Tablighi Jamaat an act of malice

The Bombay High Court (Aurangabad Bench) brought down the media propaganda against Tablighi Jamaat foreigners while rejecting the FIRs and Charge sheets registered by Maharashtra police against them.

The court said, “there was big propaganda in print media and electronic media against the foreigners who have come to Markaz Delhi and an attempt was made to create a picture that these foreigners were responsible for spreading COVID-19 in India.” In the Court’s view, there was virtual persecution against them.

A conclusion was made by a division bench comprising Justice TV Nalawade and Justice MG Sewlikar, after examining the material on record that including the foreigners, no prima facie evident was made out against the 35 petitioners before the Court. After being alleged for violating their visa conditions by attending the Tablighi Congregation at Nizamuddin in Delhi, they were booked under various provisions of IPC, Epidemic Diseases Act, Maharashtra Police Act, and Disaster Management Act and Foreigner’s Act. Anti-CAA NRC protests and the emerging Muslim-Queer-Dalit solidarity

The bench said, “The material of the present case shows that the propaganda against the so-called religious activity was unwarranted.”

The Court observed that the Central government must be aware of it while granting a visa to the foreigners to attend the Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi. Also, the Tablighi Jamaat activity had been going on for 50 years and it has always been there.

The Court labeled them as ‘scapegoats’ and said that the present number of COVID-19 cases show that the action against Tablighi Jamaat attendees was unwarranted.

“A political government tries to find the scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is the probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats. The aforesaid circumstances and the latest figures of infection in India show that such action against present petitioners should not have been taken. It is now high time to take some positive steps to repair the damage done by such action.”

A section of the media gave a communal angle to potentially vilify Tablighi Jamaat followers after it was found out during the first week of April that several attendees of the event at the Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi turned COVID-19 positive. To target the religious community, there were social media campaigns with communal hashtags all over the internet.

The Court also observed: “Considering the dates on which these people were taken in custody, it can be said that there is more possibility that they got infected in India and they were not already infected when they arrived in India. Further, admittedly screening at the airport was done by these petitioners before allowing them to leave the airport. The entire aforesaid exercise was done by the Central Government against the persons like petitioners with the presumption that they were already infected when that contention cannot be substantiated. Even in the charge sheet, there is no mention that there were cases of patients reported in all the countries of which the petitioners are nationals. The criminal case cannot be tried on the basis of such suspicion”.

The Supreme Court has been moved by an organization of Islamic scholars (Jamait ulama-i-hind) that many Muslim lives have been threatened because of certain media houses using communal headlines and bigoted statements to demonize and blame the entire community of deliberately spreading the virus that has put the country into turmoil.

On August 7, the Supreme Court was reported by The Press Council of India that it has taken cognizance of 50 cases of communal reporting and that they will be dealt with, within the framework of the law.

The News Broadcasters Association has been asked by the top court to share its views and has asked PCI to submit a report regarding the action taken by it.

A plea seeking the removal of communal hashtags on Twitter with respect to the Tablighi Jamaat was declined by the Supreme Court in April.

On August 21, the Bombay High Court delivered its judgment and added that there was a “smell of malice” in the action taken against Tablighi Jamaat attendees.

The Court said that the action of the Central Government was taken mainly against Muslim people who had come to Markaz Delhi for Tablighi Jamaat.

“Similar action was not taken against other foreigners belonging to other religions. Due to these circumstances, the background of the action and what is achieved needs to be considered by the Court”, the Court observed.

Importantly, the Court referred to CAA and NRC protest all over the country and said-

“There were protests by taking processions, holding Dharna at many places in India from at least prior to January 2020. Most of the people participating in the protest were Muslims. It is their contention that the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 is discriminatory against the Muslims. They believe that Indian citizenship will not be granted to Muslim refugees and migrants. They were protesting against the National Registration of Citizenship (NRC). It can be said that due to the present action that was taken, fear was created in the minds of those Muslims. This action indirectly gave warning to Indian Muslims that action in any form and for anything can be taken against Muslims. It was indicated that even for keeping contact with Muslims of other countries, action will be taken against them. Thus, there is a smell of malice to the action taken against these foreigners and Muslims for their alleged activities. The circumstances like malice is an important consideration when relief is claimed of quashing of F.I.R. and the case itself.” Pushpam Priya Chaudhary: a controversial promising face in Bihar’s politics?

It was concluded by the Court that the actions by the state have been taken under political compulsion and the action against the foreign nationals can be considered as an act of Malice. All petitions were allowed and FIRs were squashed.

It appears that the State Government acted under political compulsion and police also did not dare to exercise powers given to them under provisions of procedural law like Cr.P.C. and substantive laws. The record shows that there was non-application of mind by police and that is why even when no record was available to make out prima facie case, charge sheets are fled by police”, the bench said.

 

Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan is a student at the Centre for Chinese and South-east Asian Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He also works with Hasratein- a Delhi based queer collective. The current area of his academic interest lies in the study of the Chinese language and society.