Unaware of what was to come, 21-year-old Aaquil from a village near Raipur Rani, Panchkula, set out to attend a Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, on December 11. It was more than two weeks before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in China. Now, days after he returned from Jalgaon on March 21 for his marriage in April, the nationwide alarm about the Nizamuddin Tablighi event has landed him in a quarantine.
Now sitting in a guest room at the historic Nada Sahib Gurdwara here, which was recently converted into a quarantine facility, he counts the hours and days. It is already day 14 since his return, but there seems a slim chance of him getting permission to leave before another 14 days, he says.
Hailing from Raina village, Aaquil had reached Maharashtra in the general coach of an over-crowded train and returned the same way. “I had left when all this had not begun. People who go to the congregation generally leave their smart phones home,” he says. Of when the disease spread and how, he knows nothing.
“I was to get married on April 9, I don’t think that will happen now,” he says. The bride is from
Yamunanagar. The two have never spoken or even seen each other in person.
The 20 square feet window-less rooms, that used to hold two visitors, now have four occupants on two double beds, placed two feet apart. Though each room provides a separate attached bathroom, it is getting overwhelming for them to use it for daily hygiene and then again for drinking water from its taps.
“We are being treated like criminals. I do not know what crime I have committed. When I came back, I went to the doctor who said everything was good and I self-quarantined myself as a precaution, but suddenly police vans came and took me on the pretext of tests. I have been here since,” says Hamid Mohammad (34), who had left to attend Tablighi Jamaat in Sikar, Rajasthan on February 23 and returned on March 31. He was picked up by a team of Kalka police late that evening from his village Khuda Baksh.
He continues, “We have to drink water from toilets. They give us food in plates from the bottom of a grilled door. We are not allowed to talk or laugh. It is getting difficult to stay in these small rooms.”
Ameen Khan (10) and Fahad (7) await the presence of their father, 30 year old Yasir, who had gone to attend Tablighi Jamaat at Himachal Pradesh and came back to his village Radu in Pinjore, after more than a month. But he was in the village only for a day before he was picked up by police late on March 31.
“When he came, we took him to a local doctor who said all was okay. He was a daily wage earner… Our supplies were running out. I have now asked my brother to help us with rice and wheat and some money,” says his wife Saiyada (28). She was told her husband would be sent back after some tests, but it has been three days since this news. “What choice do I have other than to wait. I have been to the neighbours whose men too were picked up. There were 27 who had gone together,” she says.
Almost six kilometres away, Ijaaz, 55, frequents the Kalka Civil Hospital, asking if his son has returned from the quarantine facility. “My son had returned on March 27 and we had taken him to a doctor at Kalka Civil Hospital, who told us that he is fit for now. He had asked us to keep away from him and we were following everything to the word. But after news of Delhi Tabhlighi Jamaat spread, the police came and took him away. I keep visiting the local doctor who tells me he is fine. I don’t know when he will return”, he says.
The quarantine facility of Panchkula has received more than 120 persons from Tablighi Jamaat in the past two days. All of them are screened by health officials with thermal scanners twice a day. According to Chief Medical Officer of Panchkula, Dr Jasjeet Kaur, the administration has further asked the health department to make a comprehensive list of each of these person’s contacts since they left their specific congregations.
A spokesperson of the health department, Panchkula, said preparations are afoot to shift persons from this facility to another on and the current facility is being decongested. Arrangements are also being made to provide clean drinking water to the occupants.
(Names have been changed to protect the identity of persons mentioned.)
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