The Madras High Court has given bail to 31 foreigners who were arrested for taking part in the Tablighi Jamaat activities in alleged violations of their visa norms and asked the government to facilitate their return.
The Tamil Nadu Police arrested them, including nationals from Indonesia and Ethiopia, in April for engaging in religious preaching in several mosques and villages in the state as part of a nationwide crackdown.
Granting them bail, the Madurai bench of the High Court, however, refrained from addressing them as Tablighis, observing that such “categorisation can have serious pitfalls.”
“Justicing has to be an individualised exercise. There are scores of foreign Tablighis who are presently in detention. They hail from different countries. Some of them are women. Quite a few are senior citizens. They are normal human beings. They are now stuck in alien surroundings. The petitioners came here propelled by a sense of religious idealism. But their mission went awry. They are now eager to go back to their families. They are willing to file individual affidavits admitting that they had violated the visa conditions. They undertake that they will not enter India for the next ten years. They will make their own arrangements for return by coordinating with their respective Embassies and Consulates,” said the court.
Justice G R Swaminathan, who granted them bail, said: “Tablighi Jamaat has come under severe and harsh criticism for its reckless and irresponsible conduct and rightly so.
“There are accusations that its puritanical and revivalist project prepares the ground for Islamic radicalisation. Of course, this narrative has been contested by quite a few public intellectuals,” he said, citing a recent essay by Upendra Baxi titled Exodus Constitutionalism.
About granting them bail, the court said offences which the petitioners alleged to have committed were not similar to those offences for which there are limitations in granting bail.
“The continued incarceration of the petitioners is not going to serve any purpose. Since the petitioners are foreigners, it would obviously be difficult for them to arrange local sureties. Therefore, I direct that they shall be released on their own bond. The bonds can be submitted to the jurisdictional magistrates through emails and the jurisdictional magistrates are directed to accept the same and also issue appropriate release orders,” said Justice Swaminathan.
Further, elaborating the significance of granting them bail, he said the right to leave any country can be invoked during times of armed conflict or emergency. “The current pandemic times are no different. The petitioners fortunately have not tested positive so far. The position may be different tomorrow. The lives of the petitioners may be in danger. Times may be uncertain but rights have to be certain,” said the order.
The court said the government needs to facilitate their return. “Instead of doing so, if the respondents insist on detaining the petitioners and prosecuting them, it can only be characterised as unreasonable, unjust and unfair,” the court said.
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