Rajat Sharma

Bring strong law to punish those defying lockdown and hiding from quarantine

AKB0410With the number of Coronavirus cases spiralling across India, the Health Ministry has pointed out that figures have doubled during the last four days due to virus infection spread nationwide by Tablighi Jamaat members and their contacts. Had Tablighi Jamaat not organized that fateful gathering, it would have taken more than a week for the figures to double, said the Health Ministry official. Police in several states are still trying their best to trace the Jamaat members hiding in mosques.

You may remember, Tablighi Jamaat had earlier claimed that 1,400 people took part in the Nizamuddin Markaz gathering, but the next day, when the Markaz was searched, 2,400 people were detected. Nearly 2,000 people had already left by then and they were the key spreaders of the virus. So far, police have detected 25,000 followers and their contacts and have kept them in quarantine.

When the Tablighi Jamaat chief Maulana Saad issued an appeal to his followers from his hiding place, to cooperate with the government and doctors, I had expected that good sense will prevail, but the harsh reality is that several thousand followers and their contacts are still hiding in mosques.

Lucknow police rounded up Jamaat followers from Ali Jaan mosque on Monday, out of whom 12 were found positive. Eight others, all Coronavirus positive, were found in Sitapur, while 14 Jamaat followers were quarantined in Rampur. Similar reports have come from other states too.

Imagine the work of police and healthcare staff. They have to enter dense, crowded localities in search of Jamaat followers and their contacts, bring them to quarantine centres after facing noisy protests, get them tested, and then arrange for their lodging, food and treatment, and yet most of these followers spit at medical staff, demand biryani be served, and make a nuisance of themselves.

It is for the benefit of these Jamaat leaders that India TV on Monday night showed videos of dead bodies lying on the roadside in Guayaquil city of Ecuador, cardboard coffins being used for Coronavirus victims in Brazil and other countries, and no space available for burying thousands of those dead in Spain and Italy.

Some fundamentalist preachers have threatened anchors and reporters of news channels of reprisals after the Tablighi Jamaat incident, and on behalf of News Broadcasters Association, I had to issue a statement on Monday that such preachers should desist from making provocative and threatening remarks.

The electronic media has played an exemplary role in reporting Coronavirus pandemic during the current lockdown, and reporters are out in the field, putting their lives at risk. I have offered these preachers to join debates on news channels and put forth their stand while speaking on the role of Tablighi Jamaat in the current pandemic. Let good sense prevail.

The Jamaat leaders must understand that spitting in public places in Saudi Arabia invites death punishment and hiding travel history details in that country invites a fine upto Rs 1 crore. This is not the case in India.

In some Asian countries like the Phillipines, a person jumping quarantine was shot. Those violating lockdown rules can be fined Rs 23 lakh in Australia and Rs 2.5 lakh in Italy. So far, more than 40,000 people have been fined heavily. In Hong Kong, anybody violating lockdown can be fined upto Rs 2.5 lakh and can be put in jail for six months. Russian parliament has passed an anti-virus act under which anybody violating lockdown rules can end up in jail for seven years.

Contrast all these with what our Prime Minister has done. He has appealed to people with folded hands to stay at home and observe lockdown. Our laws are lax, but that does not mean that enemies of society can go scot free. They must and will be held accountable. Stringent laws must be put in place to deal with such anti-social acts.

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