By Syed Ali Mujtaba
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is in the process of deporting the foreign Tablighi Jamaat members who had attended the Nizamuddin Markaz congregation in March 2020. They had been booked for violating visa norms.
They have completed the quarantine cycle and have been for more than three months in detention in India. The Indian government has been receiving requests from foreign governments to repatriate their citizens as soon as possible.
These foreign TJ members are from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand and other countries. The government is in touch with foreign embassies to initiate the process of their deportation.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has made public that 2,594 foreign Tablighi Jamaat members had come to India since January till June 2, 2020. Among them 960 members are still in India.
However there is an utter confusion in the actual numbers foreign Tablighi Jamaat members currently in India. The UP government has told the Allahabad High Court that it has 279 TJ members. The Delhi figure is 541 and the Chennai figure is 125. If we add them it makes 945, while the MHA has released the figure of 960. Where 15 other foreign TJ members are, is unknown.
In the related development the government has confiscated the passport of 723 foreign nationals among them are 23 Nepali nationals whose identity cards are taken away. Among them are 270 Bangladeshi nationals.
The government sources say that many of the foreign nationals have violated the visa norms and have been blacklisted from entering India for next 10 years. They had entered India on the tourist visa but were engaged in preaching activities.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officials have reportedly said; “the foreigner TJ members will be deported, but the cases filed against them will go on. The foreign embassies will arrange the flights and make arrangements for the return of their citizens.”
The MHA further said “those indulging in Tablighi activities have done a specific visa violation and will attract a fine of $500. Some of them do not have any money with them and the government will consider waiving the fine.”
Recently, the MHA has added a new category in the general policy guidelines relating to visas, putting restrictions on engaging in Tabligh activities in India.
In the related development the Uttar Pradesh government had informed the Allahabad High Court that 279 foreign Tablighi workers were lodged in jails while 46 had left the country after being released from institutional quarantine.
Similarly, Delhi Police has filed charge sheets against 541 such foreigners for violating visa norms, but arrested none of them. In Chennai there are 125 foreign TJ members under detention at the Borstal school in the Puzhal prison complex. They were arrested from various parts of the state for violating visa norms.
Among the 125 foreign TJ members in Chennai there are 13 male members from Bangladesh, 13 from Myanmar, 14 from Thailand, more than 10 from Malaysia, 46 from Indonesia among them 6 are women, and 8 from Ethiopia among them 4 are women and 9 from France, besides other countries.
Some of those foreign TJ members were in Tamil Nadu much before the TJ- Corona linkage was found in Delhi but were also being arrested along with those who had come to the state after attending the congregation in Delhi.
The Federation of Muslim Organizations and Parties had demanded their immediate release and deportation to their respective countries. “It is perhaps the first time in the history of India that a detention camp is made for foreigners visiting Tamil Nadu,” said M. H. Jawahirullah President of the political party ‘Manithaneya Makkal Katchi’.
“The foreigner’s belonging to the Tablighi Jamaat had come to the state on a pilgrimage but were arrested on false charges at the behest of the Central government,” he added.
The MMK leader said, “It is not the first time any foreigner has violated the visa rules but it is the first time foreigners are arrested for breaking visa rules. He wondered if the government will apply the same yardstick on the Hindu, Christian or Jew preachers who may come to India for preaching purposes on tourist visas.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org