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Tablighi activity a specific visa violation, says Ministry of Home Affairs

People who came for ‘Jamat’, a religious gathering at Nizamuddin Mosque, being taken to hospital for COVID-19 test, in New Delhi on March 31, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has included “indulging in Tablighi activities” as a specific visa violation that will attract a penalty of $500 fine.

It has added a new category—“restriction on engaging in Tabligh activities” in the “general policy guidelines relating to Indian visa.”

Also read: Coronavirus | Recovered Tablighis donate plasma

The guidelines provide details of 24 categories of visas and the various conditions under which they could be granted online or by missions abroad.

The amended guidelines read, “foreign nationals granted any type of visa and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders shall not be permitted to engage themselves in Tabligh work. There will be no restriction in visiting religious places and attending normal religious activities like attending religious discourses. However, preaching religious ideologies, making speeches in religious places, distribution of audio or visual display/ pamphlets pertaining to religious ideologies, spreading conversion etc. will not be allowed.”

The $500 fine is also for other violations such as overstay of more than two years, visiting protected areas and cases involving both overstay and visa violations.

The MHA had blacklisted 960 foreigners who participated in the Tablighi Jamaat event in March at Nizamuddin markaz (centre) in Delhi in early March. Till June 2, a total of 2,600 Tablighi foreigners have been blacklisted from entering India for 10 years under “Category A” of the Visa Manual 2018, a senior government official said.

Also read: Coronavirus | Tablighi Jamaat headquarters cleared

A foreigner who is blacklisted cannot get a visa from any of the missions to come to India.

Founded by a Deobandi Isamic scholar at Mewat, Uttar Pradesh, in 1926, the Tablighi Jamaat (Society of Preachers) focusses on ‘purifying’ the Muslim faith. It has presence in 150 countries.

In an interview to Aaj Tak news channel last week, Home Minister Amit Shah said the markaz organised congregations throughout the year and it was not a public event. “However, if the programme was stopped in time and medical help provided, then such a situation wouldn’t have arisen,” he stated.

Directive to States

On March 21, the MHA asked the States to “screen, quarantine” and deport them if possible. All international flights were suspended on March 23 and the country was placed under a 21-day lockdown on March 24 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 28, the MHA wrote to the States that around 2,000 Tablighis from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand who entered India on tourist visa appear to be “potential carriers” of COVID-19.

Also read: Nizamuddin centre COVID-19 cases spark a controversy

An April 2 letter of the MHA submitted by the Centre in the Gujarat High Court said the foreigners had violated provisions of the Visa Manual, 2019 and were also liable under the provisions of Section 13 and 14 of the Foreigners Act, 1946, punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment upon conviction.

The letter added that their visas had been cancelled and they have been blacklisted under Category A as per the 2018 blacklisting guidelines. “The Bureau of Immigration (BoI) has intimated that 960 foreigners of different nationalities as identified on the basis of their travel documents have been found to be involved in Tabligh Jamaat activities on the strength of their tourist visa. Their Tabligh activities have endangered many lives in the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency,” the letter said.

The blacklisted foreigners included four Americans, nine British, six Chinese, three French, 379 Indonesians, 110 Bangladeshi, 63 Myanmarese, 33 Sri Lankan, 77 Kyrgyzstan, 75 Malaysian, 65 Thai, 12 Vietnamese and nine from Saudi Arabia.

The MHA had said that after attending the Nizamuddin event, the foreigners dispersed to other parts of the country where they participated in religious activities that amounted to visa violation.

On June 2, the Uttar Pradesh government informed the Allahabad High Court that 279 foreign Tablighi workers were lodged in jails while 46 have left the country after being released from institutional quarantine.

The MHA grants missionary visa but only for organisations approved by it for religious work.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 5:31:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tablighi-activity-a-specific-visa-violation-says-mha/article31749582.ece

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