Organisations under the Union home ministry like the Bureau of Immigration and Foreigners Regional Registration Offices (FRROs) have a greater responsibility to monitor activities of foreign members of groups such as Tablighi Jamaat, people familiar with developments said on Tuesday.
However, there is little that can be done by authorities if foreign nationals, including those who are part of a group, misrepresent the purpose of their visit to India, as was apparently done by Tablighi Jamaat members who came to India on tourist visas, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.
“If members of even a large group apply individually for tourist visas and do not mention that the purpose of their visit is to join a congregation organised by a private entity, there is no possibility that anything can be done,” said a person who declined to be named.
“Only if the persons are invited to events organised by Indian government entities or events that require clearance from the home ministry would Indian missions be brought into the loop. Then if the invitee applies for a tourist visa, he would be asked by the concerned mission to apply for a conference visa,” the person added.
The people said the Bureau of Immigration and the FRROs have a greater role to play in scrutinising and monitoring the activities of groups such as the Tablighi Jamaat.
They noted that members of the group that came for the congregation at Nizamuddin area of New Delhi should have applied for conference or missionary visas.
Conference visas are granted to foreigners whose sole purpose for visiting India is to attend an international conference or seminar, and such events require prior clearance from the home ministry only if participants are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan. If a conference is being organised by a private organiser, the entity should forward complete details of the participants to the foreigners division of the home ministry 60 days before the event.
Missionary visas are granted to foreigners whose sole purpose for visiting India is “missionary work not involving proselytization”, according to the home ministry’s rules. While there is a list of foreign missionary organisations recognised by the Indian government for such visas, there is apparently no similar list for Indian organisations.
While the Bureau of Immigration has shared lists of those who came to India from abroad with state governments, there is no specific information on the Tablighi Jamaat members as they didn’t travel with conference or missionary visas. Following the New Delhi gathering, Covid-19 infections have been recorded among participants from Kashmir to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Weeks before the gathering in New Delhi, some 16,000 members of the Tablighi Jamaat had gathered for a four-day meet at a mosque outside Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia from February 21 to March 1. The gathering was joined by about 1,500 foreigners from a dozen countries.
“Three weeks later, participants…had spread the coronavirus to half a dozen nations, creating the largest known viral vector in Southeast Asia,” The New York Times reported.
More than 620 cases in Malaysia, most of the 73 cases in Brunei and 10 cases in Thailand were linked to that gathering, according to media reports. At least three coronavirus deaths have been linked to the event.
Leading Malaysian jurist and scholar Mohammad Asri Zainul Abidin has questioned the apparent lackadaisical attitude among Jamaat members toward coming forward to be tested for the coronavirus.
“The reason Allah sends his religion is for the well-being of the human being. The religion does not teach its followers to self-destruct,” he told Malaysia’s BenarNews.
“There is [nothing] in the religion’s teachings that teaches about harming ourselves. [But] some members seemed to have failed in understanding this.”
The Tablighi Jamaat had planned to hold another gathering at the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia during March 19-22 but this was cancelled at the last minute after a public outcry over Covid-19. More than 8,000 people who had already arrived for the event were put into quarantine.