The Bombay High Court has embarrassed the Union Government, reminding it of the concept of 'Athiti Devo Bhava' (guest is our god), even as it lashed at the Centre for making Tablighi Jamaat a scapegoat by suggesting that these foreigners were responsible for spreading the Covid-19 virus in India.
Attacking the Centre for trying to undermine the maxim of universal brotherhood, a bench of Justices Tanaji Nalawade and Mukund Sewlikar reminded both the Union and the Maharashtra governments, that respect for religion and secular principles has kept India united since Independence.
The bench was dealing with petitions filed by around 35 foreigners - all members of the Tablighi Jamaat. They urged the bench to quash the FIRs and the chargesheets filed against them for allegedly breaching visa conditions during the lockdown, visiting and staying in masjids.
The judges noted that these foreigners visited India in February and their visa conditions nowhere mentioned any prohibition on visiting and staying in Masjids. The judges said it was only after a month into their visit to India that the lockdown was declared and they were left with no option but to live in masjids.
In their strongly worded judgment, the bench also trashed the contention that these Jamaatis were responsible for spreading the virus in India, as they were mostly symptomatic and none had contracted the virus before arriving here, since every foreigner was screened at the airports under the supervision of the Union government.
"There was big propaganda in the 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," Justice Nalawade said in his judgment.
"A political government tries to find a scapegoat when there is a pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is a probability that these foreigners were chosen to be scapegoats. The latest figures of infection in India show that such action against these persons should not have been taken and it is now high time for the concerned to repent about this action and to take some positive steps to repair the damage done by them," the judges said.
The bench further said that the government seemed to have forgotten our culture of 'Atithi Devo Bhava'.
"The circumstances of the present matter create a question as to whether we are really acting as per our great tradition and culture. During the situation created by Covid-19 pandemic, we need to show more tolerance and we need to be more sensitive towards our guests, particularly like the petitioners before us," the bench said, adding, "but instead of helping them, we lodged them in jails."
The judges further said that if the contention of the prosecution was correct that the Tablighi Jamaat was responsible for spreading of the virus, then they should have sent all these foreigners back to their nations.
Malice against Muslims for their protest against CAA, NRC
In its detailed judgment, the bench noted that there were foreigners of other religions too, who were in India even during the lockdown but no such action was taken against them.
The judges accordingly, held that there was malice and propaganda against Muslims, and particularly, the Tablighi Jamaat members. The judges opined that this action against Muslims was because of the community's vehement objection to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
"There were protests on a large scale, not only in Delhi, but in most of the states in India. It could be said that due to the present action (FIR against Tablighis), fear was created in the minds of Muslims; it was suggested that even for keeping contact with Muslims of other countries, action would be taken against them. Thus, there is a smell of malice to the action taken against these foreigners and Muslims for their alleged activities," the judge added.
Tolerance Has Kept India United
In addition to all these observations, the bench reminded the Union government that India has been united till now only because of tolerance. It also noted that without making proper enquiries, the Union Government had sent back many a foreigner, which is against the tenet of universal brotherhood.
"Social and religious tolerance is a practical necessity for maintaining unity and integrity of India and that is also made compulsory by our Constitution. By hard work over the past years after Independence, we have reconciled religion and modernity to a great extent," the bench said.
"We have been respecting both religious and secular sensibilities since Independence and by this approach, we have kept India united," the judges added.