LAHORE: After taking the heat in Malaysia and India for accelerating the spread of the coronavirus, the Tableeghi Jamaat is in the limelight in Pakistan also for organising its annual mass assembly at Raiwind Markaz in March despite strong opposition by the Punjab government.
According to a report by the Punjab Special Branch, approximately 70,000 to 80,000 members of the Jamaat had attended the religious congregation at the Raiwind Markaz on March 10.
However, Jamaat’s management, at that time, had claimed that the number of the participants was more than 250,000.
Of them, 3,000 had arrived from 40 countries, including the US, England and the Philippines, and were unable to return to their home countries since Pakistan had halted all international flights when Covid-19 pandemic situation worsened. They are among those local members of the community who are currently quarantined at the Raiwind Markaz where many preachers have tested positive for the virus.
Special Branch says 70,000 had gathered in Raiwind; Jamaat gave the number as 250,000
The City Raiwind, which houses a population of 200,000, has been locked completely down after hundreds of the members of the Tableeghi Jamaat tested positive for the Covid-19.
Saddar Division SP (Operations) Syed Ghazanfar says that in early March, following the instructions by the Punjab government, the Lahore police had made efforts to convince the management of the Jamaat to postpone their religious event in the wake of the outbreak of the virus in China.
In early March, the virus was wreaking havoc in many countries of the world while it had started spreading in Pakistan too.
“Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Zulfiqar Hameed held meetings with the top admin officials of the Jamaat to engage them when reports emerged that thousands of its members are attending annual event,” says Mr Ghazanfar.
As they ignored the instructions and started assembling there, the Lahore Division commissioner and the DIG Operations visited the congregation site and held another round of dialogues with the management.
SP Ghazanfar, who was also a part of the meetings, says that at that time the reports surfaced about the participation of over 70,000 members, including 3,000 foreigners of the community at the Raiwind Markaz.
“We kept the top management of the Tableeghi Jamaat engaged and finally they cut the six-day event short to three days.”
He claims that a majority of them returned to their destinations across the country on March 13 but around 5,000, including 3,000, foreigners are still there in Markaz which was later declared a quarantine centre when confirmed cases of the virus started appearing in a large number.
Meanwhile, the health authorities in Punjab have also declared that the coronavirus cases are rising in Punjab because of ‘carelessness’ of the Tableeghi Jamaat members who keep on meeting the public as a part of their preaching after their return to the areas they belonged to.
Talking to Dawn, a senior health official says the health authorities have repeatedly requested the Tableeghi Jamaat management to curb its activities and cooperate with them to stop the spread of the virus in Punjab.
About 10,263, who had attended the Tableeghi Jamaat event in March, have been quarantined in all 36 districts of Punjab.
The authorities are still searching for thousands of other participants who have returned to their homes, declaring them a big potential source of spread of the virus if not traced and quarantined timely.
According to the official figures, out of the 10,263 members of the Tableeghi Jamaat, 539 have tested positive for the virus so far. Of them, the highest number of cases (404) is reported from Raiwind Markaz, followed by 31 in Hafizabad.
Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2020