Narayan Namboodiri | TNN | Updated: Aug 26, 2020, 14:46 IST
File photoMUMBAI/THANE: In an embarrassing turn for the city force, Bandra police on Tuesday filed a 300-page chargesheet against 12 Indonesian Tablighi Jamaat delegates (six couples) but after dropping serious sections under IPC – 304 (II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) – for which they failed to collect substantiating evidence.
At the same time, a Thane magistrate court also discharged 28 other Tablighis, including seven Indians, in two cases with Mumbra police station under the Epidemic Diseases Act, the Foreigners Act and Disaster Management Act. Magistrate RH Jha, in her order, said, “No offence is made out against all, so they are entitled for discharge.” The discharged include 13 Bangladeshis and 8 Malaysians.
Of 15 FIRs filed in the state against the Tablighis, those filed by Mumbai police — one in Bandra and two in DN Nagar — against 22 Indonesians and 10 Kazakh nationals were the only ones to invoke ‘attempt to murder’ and ‘culpable homicide’ charges.
The Tablighi Jamaat religious congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz mosque in early March was perceived to be a coronavirus super-spreader event. Over 9,000 missionaries attended the congregation, the majority being from India and over 2,000 attendees from 40 other countries (see graphic). The uproar over the entry and free movement of the delegates despite restrictions imposed during the Covid outbreak led to calls for their arrest.
In the ensuing weeks, police in several states tracked down and detained members of the ultra orthodox sect. A Bandra police probe showed that the 12 Indonesians in the city met at least 35 people during their stay. Police said they were booked because they did not follow procedures of informing police on reaching Mumbai on March 23. “They roamed around in different parts of the city and stayed at three places before relocating to Zarina Apartment in Bandra (West) on March 29. They visited a few mosques, including at Dharavi, and met many. During the tests two of them turned positive. This was the reason for applying the serious sections,” said a Bandra police officer, requesting anonymity.
The public prosecutor argued that the foreign nationals, mostly preachers, were here on a tourist visa which does not allow them to deliver religious sermons and makes them liable for legal action, which may include debarring them from entering the country again. Defence lawyer Ishrat Ali Khan, however, told TOI, “The 12 foreign nationals came to Mumbai to study the culture of the community and was not involved in any preaching.”
The crackdown and the cases against the foreign Tablighi delegates, which has prevented them from returning home for months now, led to greater scrutiny of the police action and a diplomatic row.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone IX) Abhishek Trimukhe said three FIRs were registered in Mumbai in April, but the ‘attempt to murder’ and ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’ charges were dropped as no evidence “was found during the probe.”
Ishrat Ali Khan said, “Police have clearly said that they have not found any evidence, documentary or otherwise, to invoke either of the serious charges. I wish to add that even the section under 14(b) of Foreigners Act is not attracted as they had all entered with valid passport and visa and had come to India prior to lockdown advisories issued by the state or Centre including. Thus they had neither deliberately nor intentionally entered India to spread Covid disease. We will be approaching the Bombay high court very soon with a quashing petition against the FIR and chargesheet.” However, police say they have violated the terms of their visa, which may still prove to be a sticky point.
(With inputs from Nishikant Karlikar & Swati Deshpande)