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Aurangabad:

 
Quashing FIRs against around three dozen Tablighi Jamaat followers, the Bombay High Court has said that there is a possibility that those who were present in the organisation’s Delhi headquarters were chosen to be made scapegoats and slammed the media propaganda to blame them for the Covid-19 spread.

“It can be said that due to the action taken, fear was created in the minds of those Muslims. There is a smell of malice to take action against these foreigners and other Muslims for their alleged activities,” the court said in a ruling on Friday.

Bombay High Court (Aurangabad Bench) Justice TV Nalawade and Justice MG Sewlikar quashed the First Information Reports registered against six Indians and 29 foreigners who were present at the Jamaat congregation in Delhi in March.

“There was virtually persecution of these foreigners. A political government tries to find the scapegoats… and circumstances show that there is a probability that these foreigners were chosen to be made the scapegoats,” the court ruled.

Making strong observations, the court said that there was “big propaganda in the print and electronic media against these foreigners and attempts were made to paint a picture that these foreigners were responsible for the spread of coronavirus in India”.

“The propaganda against the so-called religious activity was unwarranted as records and submissions proved that it had been going on for over 50 years,” said Justice Nalawade and Justice Sewlikar.

However, these circumstances and the latest figures of the spread of the infection in India show that “such action against the present petitioners should not have been taken”.

It said that records show that the Centre took action against mainly Muslims who attended the Nizamuddin Markaz of the Tablighi Jamaat but not against persons or foreigners belonging to other religions.

In this connection, referring to the nationwide protests against the CAA-NRC, the court said that a majority of the participants were Muslims and by the action taken (by the authorities) a “fear was created in the minds of the Muslims”.

“This action indirectly gave a warning to the Indian Muslims that action in any form and for anything can be taken against them. It was indicated that even for keeping contact with the Muslims of other countries, action will be taken against them. Thus, there is a smell of malice to the action taken against these foreigners and other Muslims for their alleged activities,” the court added.

“It is now high time for the authorities concerned to repent this action against the foreigners and to take some positive steps to repair the damage done by such action,” said the division bench.

The Judges further said that the allegations are “very vague in nature” and it was not possible that they were spreading Islam and there was any intention of conversions.

Rejecting the plea by government counsel MM Nerlikar to stay the judgment to enable a legal challenge to the same, the court said that the foreigners cannot immediately leave India and there is a “long procedure to grant permission to them and send them to their countries”.

“Some arrangement will have to be made between the countries (concerned) if international flights are not operating. In view of these circumstances and since the cases stand quashed and set aside, there is no question of granting a stay. It is the job of the government to see as to what needs to be done afterwards,” said the court.

Justice Nalawade and Justice Sewlikar’s stinging pronouncements came on three independent petitions filed by 35 persons, including six Indians and 29 foreigners hailing from Indonesia, Ghana, Iran, Djibouti, Benin, Tanzania, Brunei, and the Ivory Coast.

The petitioners were booked under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, Disaster Management Act, Foreigners Act, and the Epidemic Diseases Act for allegedly flouting tourist visa norms by attending the Jamaat Markaz.

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