New Delhi:Tablighi Jamaat preachers, despite completing 30 days in different quarantine centres in the national capital, are not being released. Keeping them, a majority of whom were tested negative, confined for over twice the mandatory coronavirus isolation period of 14 days tantamount to illegal detention, some of them said, questioning if they were being punished for the government’s indecision and lack of vision on how to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some of the inmates Newsclick spoke with accused the administration of being “callous”, adding that they had been “imprisoned” without caring to provide them with proper and timely food, water and medicines. They said while on the one hand, the government was“happily” taking their plasma to treat others, they were kept locked like “hard core criminals”.
Syed Shahwez, who belongs to Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, was brought to the Narela quarantine centre, one of the biggest ones in North India, from the Nizamuddin Markaz on March 30, along with 450 people. He and his 250 fellow Tablighi inmates tested negative. Yet, they have been languishing in the quarantine facility where 1,170 people have been accommodated in 625 Delhi Development Authority flats.
Out of the 450 Tablighis who were brought to the Narela facility, 120 were shifted to hospital and 65 people who tested positive were isolated in a nearby building. These people have now tested negative twice and are also donating plasma. The rest 265 Jamaatis, who were already negative, are still in quarantine. A majority of them are from Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
“We are being forced to stay in inhuman conditions for no reason. We have even completed 30 days here, which is more than double the required mandatory isolation period of COVID-19 suspects. Many of us who have now recovered from the infection and have tested negative twice. We have also donated plasma for the treatment of others. This prolonged quarantine is nothing less than detention,” Shahwez told Newsclick, adding that when they took up the matter with district officials, they were promised that a decision on their release was likely to be taken after May 3 (when the lockdown is slated to end).
Complaining about the food being served to them even in the month of Ramzan, when Muslims observe fast and need healthy food, he said all the inmates get is sub-standard quality and insufficient quantity of food.
“The situation has improved a bit after we were allowed to get food from outside. A few organisations are now supplying us food, milk and fruits for ‘iftar’ (evening meal with which Muslims end their daily fast at sunset), dinner and ‘sehri’ (the meal consumed before dawn in Ramzan). There is no regular upkeep of sanitation, no maintenance of hygiene, non-availability of medical staff and equipment and a general lack of amenities for the quarantined patients,” he complained.
Nasar Basha, a resident of Tamil Nadu, who is lodged at the quarantine centre at Wazirabad Police Training Camp, said they were facing similar problems. He said he, along with 150 Jamaatis, had already completed 29 days in quarantine, but were not being released. Of the 150 people, a majority of whom were foreign nationals, 88 were COVID-19 positive, while the rest 62 were negative. Even those who were earlier positive, have now recovered and have tested negative twice.
“We are not very well-off. The amount our families had, has been spent. They are now facing difficulties. We repeatedly urged officials to make arrangements for our travel, but were told that they don’t have orders. Why are we being treated like criminals? Why are our families being made to suffer?” he asked.
Basha said they were decent getting food and other essential items after they were allowed to get it from outside. “Things have changed after Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind got permission to provide us with food and other essential items,” he added.
Residents of other quarantine centres also had similar complaints. Apart from food, even drinking water is not readily available and the patients are having to spend the day on limited amount of water, leading to dehydration in this hot weather. In some instances, despite repeated requests made to the guards posted there, no water dispensing facility has been made available to the patients, some of them said.
There are also complaints about unavailability of proper bedding facilities with a lot of them being merely provided with a thin mattress. Considering that some of the persons are old and infirm, poor bedding facilities could exacerbate their health problems, they complained.
“The quarantine centre at Badarpur houses mostly senior citizens who were brought here from the Markaz. We were 160 persons, of which 26 tested positive. All those who were negative from day one, have completed double the mandatory isolation period. Even those who tested COVID-19 positive, have now recovered and donating their plasma. There is no point in holding us hostage anymore,” said Mohammad Shuaib, a resident of Seelampur.
Shuaib said initially, officials, doctors, paramedics and other staff were extremely hostile and unfriendly towards the Jamaatis, as if they were responsible for the outbreak of the disease. They alleged that their mobile phones were taken away, and returned only after they protested.
“Things have now changed of late when we ourselves took the responsibility of food and cleaning. The staff is now happy because we share their burden. Our community organisations provide us food. And, therefore, we no longer depend on the government. But the question remains: why are we kept here when our families at home are waiting for us?” he added.
Incidentally, two Jamaatis have died at the Sultanpuri quarantine centre allegedly because of not being served food on time as well as medical attention.
Mohammad Mustafa, 60, who died at the Sultanpuri quarantine facility on April 22, reportedly succumbed due to an already existing condition which allegedly aggravated due to oversight at the quarantine centre.
He was a diabetic and had died allegedly on account of there being no proper medical facilities to assist him when he fell ill. He had been shifted to this quarantine centre from the Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital four days before his death, and notably, before his final test results for coronavirus had come in.
Ten days ago, Haji Rizwan, another diabetic, died allegedly because of the “callous” and “uncooperative” nature of officers and doctors supervising these camps, which were facing “erratic supply of food.”
Both the deceased men were from Tamil Nadu and had attended the religious congregation at Delhi’s Nizamuddin area in February, which later emerged as an infection hotspot.
Mohammed Ibrahim, a resident of Mangolpuri, who is quarantined in the same facility, alleged that Mustafa had “diabetes and his condition had worsened. We kept calling doctors and other staff but no one took it seriously. Our repeated requests for an ambulance to take him to hospital went in vain. The ambulance came only to take his dead body.”
Ibrahim questioned as to why they were being quarantined even after 30 days. Asked that even if the government let them go, where would they go as there was a complete lockdown everywhere, he said: “My home is close to the Sultanpuri quarantine centre where I am lodged. Like me, there are over 20 Tablighis in the facility from Delhi who are not being allowed to go home.”
The condition of the Mandoli quarantine centre, which has been set up in prison, is more pathetic. It is apparent that these centres are not in compliance with the guidelines on operation of such quarantine centres issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
District magistrates who have jurisdiction over the areas where the quarantine centres have been set up could not be reached for comments as none of them responded to repeated calls made by Newsclick.
But a senior official of the Delhi government acknowledged the problem.
“There are problems and we do not deny it. But there was no other option but to lodge these people in quarantine centres because we had to contain the spread of the virus. Now, when they are doing fine and have already completed the isolation period, the government is considering releasing them but their transportation is an issue because of the lockdown. A final decision can be taken only after May 3. We are also awaiting guidelines from the Centre,” he added.
A Delhi-based lawyer, Advocate Saaduzzaman, has also written to the Delhi government, describing the abysmal conditions of these quarantine centres. The letter is based on the experience of his family members who are in quarantine in different centres.
His letter to the Principal Secretary of the Delhi health department has reportedly been forwarded to the district authorities who have been asked to address the concerns raised.