Quashing the FIRs against 29 foreign nationals who were accused of participating in the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Delhi without permission amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court said the action against them was taken in order to make them scapegoats during a pandemic.
A division bench of Justice TV Nalawade and Justice MG Sewlikar said, “A political Government tries to find the scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is 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.”
Slamming the media for carrying propaganda about the Tablighis, Justice TV Nalawade said, “There was big propaganda in print media and electronic media against the foreigners who had come to Markaz Delhi and an attempt was made to create a picture that these foreigners were responsible for spreading COVID-19 virus in India. There was virtually persecution against these foreigners.”
“Smell of malice” in action taken
Before quashing the FIRs, Justice Nalawade noted, “This action indirectly gave warning to Indian Muslims that action in any form and for any thing 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 smell of malice to the action taken against these foreigners and Muslim for their alleged activities. The circumstances like malice is important consideration when relief is claimed of quashing of F.I.R. and the case itself.”
The 58-page judgment stated, “The record of this matter and the submissions made show that action of central government was taken mainly against Muslim persons who had come to Markaz Delhi for Tablighi Jamaat. Similar action was not taken against other foreigners belonging to other religions.”
When the State sought a stay on the operation of the order on the grounds that an appeal was to be preferred, the Court replied that there was no “question of a stay”.
The Tablighi Jamaat hit the headlines in March after authorities said a congregation at its headquarters in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area was responsible for a spike in COVID-19 infections.