The Nightmare

The Modi government’s persecution of the Tablighi Jamaat

30 January 2021
Members of the Tablighi Jamaat being taken into quarantine after the Nizamuddin Markaz was closed down on 31 March 2020.
Ishan Tankha
Members of the Tablighi Jamaat being taken into quarantine after the Nizamuddin Markaz was closed down on 31 March 2020.
Ishan Tankha

IRFAN KHAN, a mechanical engineer from Brisbane, Australia, landed in Delhi on 22 March 2020. His status as an Overseas Citizen of India meant that he did not need a visa for what was meant to be a short visit to meet friends and family. From the airport, he and his wife went to a friend’s place in Batla House. Later that day, he visited the Nizamuddin headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim revivalist organisation. At the Markaz, as the centre is called, he entered his name and current address in a register. He stayed there for an hour, then left.

At 1 am on 3 April, the police arrived at the Batla House address he had entered in the Markaz register. They told Khan that they were taking him into quarantine. He was packed into a mosquito-ridden ambulance with eight others and taken to a public school in New Friends Colony that, he told me, had “Pan Parag spit on its walls and broken windows.” Khan was told that he was exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, even though he felt normal. Despite testing negative for the coronavirus, he would spend the next 62 days in the quarantine centre.

A 30-year-old Australian woman, who was quarantined in another floor of the public school, said she spent the two months in one room with three other women from another country. “There were language barriers, and all we had was broken Urdu and sign language to communicate in,” she told me. “We managed to wrap a cloth on the camera in the room, which was meant to record us 24/7. The only time we went outside the room was when we went to the washroom to relieve ourselves or to wash clothes, by hand, and dry them in the room itself.” Another woman, a US national, said the school was “really dirty, and there were so many mosquitos and insects. We slept on the floor.” Ramzan came and went. Nearby residents provided them some food, mosquito nets and kettles to make life a little easier.

Seema Chishti is a writer and journalist based in Delhi. She has worked in print, radio and television, in English and in Hindi, since 1990. She was the Delhi editor for BBC India and a deputy editor at the Indian Express. She is the co-author of Note by Note: The India Story (1947-2017), a history of independent India told alongside the sound of Hindi film music for each of the years. Her endeavour remains to tease out, untie and then help interpret the many strands of change in a large and diverse country.

Keywords: Tablighi Jamaat Islamophobia Modi government COVID-19 Delhi Police
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