With some members of the Tablighi Jamaat pleading guilty to smaller charges to expedite their return to their countries and some being recently discharged by court, many such foreign nationals still stranded in Maharashtra say their extended stay in the country was a lesson in patience.
From farmers, shopkeepers, engineers, IT professionals, retired government officials, teachers to small businessmen, many people against whom cases were filed on alleged charges of violation of Covid-19 restrictions and visa norms in the state await trials. Many also await exit formalities to conclude before they can return home to their families.
Last month, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court had quashed FIRs against 29 foreign nationals in connection with the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Delhi in March for the alleged violations. The bench had held that the men were made “scapegoats” and jailed instead of being treated sensitively amid the pandemic.
A 39-year-old Indonesian bicycle shopowner, along with his wife and 10 others, had came to Mumbai in the first week of March. They were set to return on March 24. The couple has four children, the youngest aged five, who are currently staying with their grandmother. “On phone calls, I keep telling my children that the reason for the delay is the lockdown and that there are no flights available. We have not told them about the case,” the shopowner said.
Besides not having seen his children for six months, he is also worried about his shop, which is being run by his employees. “We will know how the shop is doing when we get home but a lockdown was imposed back home too,” he said.
For others in the group, including two farmers who cultivate rubber and two teachers, their families have been relying on the kindness of neighbours and relatives, as they have not earned anything during this period.
The Bandra police had booked 12 members of the group under sections 304 (2) and 307 of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to culpable homicide not amounting to murder and attempt to murder. The charges were later dropped. Now, they awaits trial on other charges, including violation of visa and lockdown rules.
The members of the group were arrested and jailed – while the men spent a week in Taloja Central Jail, the women were kept at Byculla Women’s Jail – before being granted bail by court.
From being asked to drink water from the bathroom to not being given access to the canteen, the members said that they spent their toughest days in jail. One of the men had to survive only on watermelon, as he could not adapt to the food served in the jail and had to be hospitalised after his release on bail. “He also suffered a mental breakdown, we had to constantly reassure him that things will be okay now,” said a member.
And yet, ask if they want to return to India again, the answer is “yes” in unison. “We have learnt to be patient from this experience,” the 39-year old said.
Similarly, other such Tablighi Jamaat members in different parts of the state maintained they would want to return again.
In Mumbra, a group of Malaysians and Bangladeshis who were booked have been discharged by a court in Thane. The members of the group said that they were not aware that they were being charged under criminal sections. Awaiting their exit permissions to be granted, one member said that they have been in touch with their families through video and phone calls.
“We came here to understand how Islam is practiced in the country. The lockdown was imposed after we came here and the rest was our destiny,” said a 42-year old Filipino national, who along with seven others was discharged of all charges last week by a Navi Mumbai court. The group had lost one of their companions to Covid-19 in March.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines