By Nirendra Dev
India has slapped a ban on more than 2,500 blacklisted foreign nationals from entering the country for 10 years for violating visa norms and attending a controversial Tablighi Jamaat conference in Delhi.
Thousands of Muslim clerics gathered from March 13-15 in New Delhi’s predominantly Muslim Nizamuddin area for the annual conference of Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary group.
At least 10 attendees died from Covid-19 within a few days of the conference ending. Another nine have been reported to have died from Covid-19 in various parts of India. One participant died in the Philippines.
The blacklisted foreigners include participants from Indonesia (379), Bangladesh (110), Kyrgyzstan (77), Malaysia (75), Thailand (65), Myanmar (63), Sri Lanka (33), Vietnam (12), Saudi Arabia (9) and France (3).
“They will be banned from entering India for the next 10 years,” a senior Home Ministry official told UCA News.
“Essentially, the offence was for violating passport norms and visa regulations as most had entered India on tourist visas and thus could not take part in any religious missionary congregation.”
Usually, such a ban can be reviewed within a year or so, but this is the first time that a definite 10-year time frame has been specified.
“The move will send a strong message globally … that religious preachers have to take a specific and prior nod from the administration and such religious acts should be mentioned in the visa papers clearly,” the official said.
The federal government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in April that the Muslim congregation was solely responsible for the fast spread of the coronavirus pandemic and claimed it had caused 30 percent of India’s cases.
Since March 15, thousands of attendees have traveled back to their villages and towns.
The conference started and ended when government orders were in place against the mass gathering of people.Muslim leader and socialist lawmaker Shafiqur Rahman Barq criticized the 10-year ban, saying the pro-Hindu government has “indulged in communal politics” even during a pandemic which has claimed thousands of lives across the world.
“Such a ban for 10 years is unprecedented and unwarranted … This government is targeting Muslims in the country and from abroad. Delhi police recently arrested Jamia Millia Islamia student leaders including a pregnant Safoora Zargar and many more for the anti-citizenship law protest in Delhi in December,” he told UCA News.
Government sources revealed that steps have been initiated to deport at least 900 foreign Tablighi members after they complete quarantine or hospitalization and international flights resume.
The ruling BJP has welcomed the 10-year ban. BJP leader Khemchand Sharma said: “The Tablighi Jamaat event was majorly responsible for the Covid-19 crisis in India. We welcome the government decision.”
Home Ministry officials said the decision was not taken alone by the federal government as various state governments and local administrations provided details of foreigners found to be illegally living in mosques and attending the controversial missionary meet.
Government agencies have registered a preliminary inquiry against the organizers of the conference for alleged dubious cash transactions and concealing sources of foreign donations.
In May, church leaders and activists expressed dismay over the plight of Tablighi Jamaat members who allegedly remained in quarantine centers beyond the mandatory 14-day period.
Sabiha Quadri, a social worker who lodged a petition at Delhi High Court, alleged that 3,300 members of the Islamic missionary movement have remained at various quarantine centers for over a month despite testing negative for the coronavirus.