What actually happened at the Markaz and how fear and lack of understanding led to a crisis situation
As on date, the total number of those identified as having attended the Mashoora (congregation) at Delhi Nizamuddin’s Markaz from south India alone totals 3149.
Another 400 are in quarantine in Delhi. At least another 160 are yet to be traced. This does not include those from other states outside of south India who attended the meeting.
While the official data is in no way comprehensive due to some governments not providing them, here is the break up, statewise, of the Nizamuddin attendees.
Tamil Nadu: A total of 1500 identified of which around 400 are in Delhi under quarantine; 1103 in quarantine in Tamil Nadu in various districts. Of these 190 have tested positive for COVID-19. State officials say they are confident of having identified almost everyone.
Andhra Pradesh: A bulletin released on April 02 shows that 758 persons who have returned from the Markaz have been isolated. 543 of their primary contacts too have been tested. More details are awaited on the same.
Telangana: As per state Health Minister Etela Rajendra, 750 persons who attended the Markaz have been traced so far in the state and tested at Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad. Another 160 persons are yet to be traced. So far eight persons who attended the Markaz have died in Telangana.
Karnataka: So far nearly 1000 persons have been screened in the state. Out of these, six have been found to be having symptoms of COVID-19. Out of 100 preliminary test results, 11 from Bidar district have tested positive, said Pankaj Kumar Pandey, Commissioner-Health, Karnataka. More details are likely to be made available on Thursday evening.
Kerala: Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan stated that 60 persons who attended the Markaz have been put into quarantine. Unconfirmed reports state that there were a total of 310 attendees from Kerala of which 160 returned to the state and 150 are in quarantine in Delhi. The Lede reached out to health officials for confirmation but is yet to receive a response.
The Nizamuddin Markaz event held in mid to late March has become a point of outrage in the country as many media houses take communal stands on them.
In reality, the event was ill timed, went ahead when it should have been cancelled and many of those who attended did not self report about having come in contact with foreigners. All of these are simply human nature, mistakes that could have been avoided, and it is clear that it was simply a series of unfortunate events and not deliberate, malafide or linked with religion in any way.
The Lede spoke to a few of the men who attended the event. They are currently in isolation wards of different states.
We have learnt the following details from them.
The meeting is held every two years at Nizamuddin Markaz. It is planned down to the last detail meticulously and the devout from across the country are exposed to the preaching of religious scholars from across the world, particularly from south east Asia.
The foreign preachers arrive in advance and travel around states, delivering talks at mosques and asking the faithful to join the event. In Tamil Nadu at least, the foreign preachers arrived in early February, well before flight regulations were in place for international travel, and 204 of them travelled across 21 districts of the state before heading to Delhi for the event.
The event itself is held in three-day slots. The largest group of people are those who speak and understand Urdu. The talks given by the foreign nationals are translated into Urdu for this group. Most attendees from north India who understand the language were part of this group. The dates of this particular group are yet to be confirmed by The Lede.
The Malayalam speaking group seems to have been the first among the south Indian states to have their session. The sessions were held and translated into Malayalam between March 01 and March 15, although the exact dates are not yet clear.
Dates for the Kannada sessions too are unclear. We hope to get that information from the Karnataka authorities on Thursday evening.
The next group was the Telugu speaking group. Talks by the foreign preachers were translated into Telugu for those who arrived from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. This, according to one of the attendees from Vizianagaram, Andhra Pradesh, was held from March 15 to March 17.
“I started from Parvathipuram on March 13,” said the person who had attended the event. He is currently in an isolation ward in a Vizianagaram hospital. “I reached Nizamuddin on the evening of March 14. I stayed there on March 15 and 16. I started on the morning of March 17 by Samta (Vizag Steel Samta Express). I had gone there too by Samta. I reached my village on the evening of March 18. By the grace of God, I have no issues till now,” he told The Lede.
“I got a bed in the room by the side of the wall on which my number is written and that is where I stayed. I was there to give paperwork of our district for the past two years. We are not supposed to prepare things before we reach there nor go out even. We are supposed to stay there itself. We stay there and finish the paperwork and fill up forms. We eat there itself too. We have to furnish details as to what we have done in the past two years - what kind of works have been done and what we have as plans. We have to tell them why we are there after two years,” he explained.
The event is meticulously planned and those who attend barely have time for any other activities.
“It is a seven or eight storied building. People keep coming and going from time to time and everything happens according to a system and plan. We don’t have any time to engage in anything else ourselves. I was restricted to my room and my own toilet. I never used any common toilet for hot water even,” he said.
Some of those who are in Delhi for the first time indulge in some sight seeing,” he added. But he himself did not bother since it was not his first time in Delhi.
“I first went there in 2007. Now I am more pious and hence don’t take any pleasure in such activities,” he added.
“Musafa was held after March 17 by when I started on my journey back home,” he added. Musafa is the practice of grasping and shaking a person's hand as to acknowledge an introduction or to agree on a contract.
“I didn’t wait for that. I started at 7:30 am on March 17 and reached home at 3:30 pm on March 18.”
The Tamil group, the largest group among the lot, had their sessions slotted for between March 21 to 23, according to a person from Madurai district who attended the event. He is currently at a hospital and awaiting test results. We shall refer to him as X henceforth.
X, along with around six others, reached Delhi on March 20, by the Thirukkural Express.
The Markaz was all set to conclude on March 23, with Tamil Nadu being the last session.
However, unexpectedly, the Prime Minister announced a Janata Curfew to be observed on Sunday, March 22.
Even more of a surprise was the Delhi government imposing Section 144 statewide on the same day starting 9 pm until March 31.
Due to this, the Markaz program was wound up a day earlier, and on the morning of March 23, it was announced that the program was cancelled.
Another person from Madurai, whom we shall call Y, who is in isolation in hospital, and who had attended the Nizamuddin program, told The Lede that once it was announced that curfew would be in place from 9 pm, the Delhi residents who were part of the program swung into action.
“The Markaz management took good care of us,” said Y. “Delhi locals brought their own cars and dropped us off at the airport by evening. Two of us had gone together but our return flight was booked for March 25. We stayed overnight at the airport, rescheduled our tickets and came back to Chennai on March 24.”
Y and his companion had driven to Chennai from Madurai in their own car and boarded a flight to Delhi on March 21. They drove back to Madurai after landing in Chennai.
“We had booked return tickets by train,” said X from Madurai. “But since the trains got cancelled, we did not have a choice but to take flights back. We took a flight from Delhi to Chennai and then rented an Omnibus to take us back to Madurai,” he said. The group returned on March 23.
Those who could afford expensive flight tickets headed home. Those who could not, were asked to stay put in the Markaz by the management.
The Tamil Nadu government contacted X in Madurai on March 31 and asked him to come to the hospital to provide swab samples. “Some have tested positive,” said X. He refused to divulge how many. His own results are pending.
As for Y, he was contacted by district officials two days after his return i.e. on March 26. From March 26 onward, officials called him twice a day, every day, asking how his health was and whether he had any symptoms. “I have no fever or cough or breathlessness,” said Y. “On March 31, I got a call asking me to come to the hospital for check up. Since then I have been in the hospital. My test results are awaited,” he said.
The man in isolation in Vizianagaram said that the Andhra police contacted him on March 28 and told him not to go out. “Then an anganwadi worker contacted me and enquired our details and went away,” he said. On March 29, the police arrived and asked him about his travel details.
“Then in the night, they brought an ambulance and took me and my family to the hospital. They said me and my family have to be tested and since then we have been kept here,” he said.
Apart from those who reported voluntarily after state governments issued appeals to do so, many of the returnees refused to cooperate with the state authorities – this, once again, was out of fear of being kept in isolation or of cases being slapped on them.
This explains why different attendees returned to their homes on different days and why the last and biggest batch from Tamil Nadu was stranded in Delhi once curfew kicked in.
With the last set of returnees arriving home latest by March 24, there is another five days left for the incubation period of the virus to be completed. With state governments in the south having almost completed identification of the returnees, it is now a matter of tracing those that they had contact with in the interim.
And thanks to the nationwide lockdown, officials are hopeful that spread would be limited.