The Centre on Tuesday submitted to the Delhi High Court that the Nizamuddin Markaz mosque in Delhi could not be opened for prayers during Ramzan as the Delhi Disaster Management Authority has prohibited gatherings and congregations since April 10 due to the massive surge in coronavirus cases, The Indian Express reported. The Delhi Police also took a similar stand.

The court was hearing a plea by the Delhi Waqf Board seeking permission for devotees to pray at the mosque during Ramzan. The Nizamuddin Markaz building has been locked since March 31 last year, when it was vacated following a congregation by religious group Tablighi Jamaat in the initial days of the pandemic.

The submission made by the Centre and the Delhi Police came a day after the Delhi High Court on Monday said that the mosque could be opened for prayers, subject to the DDMA’s coronavirus-related guidelines. The court had rejected the Centre’s earlier submission that only 20 worshippers be permitted inside the premises at a time, out of a list of 200 verified by the police. The court said that the number of worshippers cannot be fixed at the mosque, when no other religious place had such restrictions.

However, in Tuesday’s hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre said that all religious, political, academic, social and other gatherings have been barred by the DDMA, Live Law reported. “There are 13,000 fresh Covid-19 cases in Delhi...coronavirus cannot tell the difference between religions,” Mehta argued.

Meanwhile, appearing for the Waqf Board, Senior Advocate Ramesh Gupta pointed out that several religious activities, including the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar were still proceeding. He told the court that he could submit photographs of a Hanuman temple in Karol Bagh in Delhi, where physical distancing norms were being flouted. Gupta asked if central government rules were not applicable at the Kumbh and whether the rules were only applicable for Muslims, The Indian Express reported.

To this, Mehta said that he was not in a position to compare the Kumbh with the matter before the court. Hundreds of thousands of devotees have gathered in the city of Haridwar in Uttarakhand for a ritual bath in the Ganges River despite the massive surge in coronavirus cases.

Justice Mukta Gupta, who was hearing the case, asked the Centre to file an affidavit detailing the manner in which the DDMA guidelines are being followed. Responding to Ramesh Gupta’s contention on the Kumbh Mela and other religious places, she said the affidavit was for the Centre to submit on record that all other gatherings have been stopped.

“Let them [Centre] say on affidavit that they have closed all this, then of course it will apply to this [Nizamuddin mosque],” Mukta Gupta said, according to The Indian Express. “But if they have not closed all these religious gatherings in temples, churches and mosques, then this [Markaz] will be open and everywhere social distancing has to be followed.”

The Tablighi Jamaat congregation

A Tablighi Jamaat congregation that took place at the Nizamuddin Markaz was blamed for thousands of coronavirus infections around the country in the initial weeks of the nationwide lockdown which began on March 25, 2020. The event had renewed stigma against Muslims, triggering a wave of business boycotts and hate speech towards them.

The Tablighi Jamaat is a Sunni Muslim sect with followers in over 80 countries.

In June, the Centre had blacklisted over 2,500 Tablighi members and prohibited their entry into the country for 10 years. The action was taken after several state governments submitted information on those who had been accused of illegally living in mosques and seminaries.

Several cases were filed against people who attended the congregation for reasons such as allegedly disobeying the government’s Covid guidelines or violating the conditions of their visa. But courts have quashed most of the FIRs and acquitted the members. The Bombay High Court noted in August that foreign nationals had been made scapegoats.

The Supreme Court also criticised the media coverage of the matter, and pulled up the government for not placing curbs on television programmes.

Also read:

‘Unjust and unfair’: What three High Courts said about the arrests of Tablighi Jamaat members