COVID-19 in J&K: Tableeghi Jamaat Head Dies, Associates ‘Infected’

The head of a religious propagation network, who also belonged to one of the Union Territory’s richest business families, has become the first fatal victim of coronavirus in Jammu and Kashmir. He died at the Chest Diseases Hospital in Srinagar on Wednesday, 25 March. Fear has gripped the Kashmir Valley as four of the Sopore-based businessman’s associates in the Tableeghi Jamaat have already tested positive with COVID-19, and nearly 50 others of his network, including his family members and relatives, are anxiously waiting for their reports.

Principal Secretary and the government spokesperson, Rohit Kansal, announced on Twitter that the 65-year-old, who had a house in Shah Anwar Colony of Hyderpora, on the outskirts of Srinagar, was the first fatal casualty due to coronavirus in Jammu and Kashmir. He had announced on Tuesday that four associates of the businessman, all from Bandipora district in northern Kashmir, had also tested positive.

Orders to Shut Down All Mosques, Seminaries, Other Places of Worship

District Magistrates of Srinagar, Budgam, and Bandipora immediately ordered the shutdown of all mosques and seminaries, besides other places of worship, hours after an overnight clash between the residents and the police at Chrar-e-Sharief (Budgam) where a multitude of devotees insisted on performing “congregational penance” at the shrine of Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani, one of Kashmir’s most revered saints of the 14th century.

Authorities are apprehensive that such religious gatherings have already spread the pandemic among hundreds in the Valley.

Hours after the bad news, Mr Kansal revealed another shocker, saying that two grandchildren of a Natipora Srinagar resident, who had returned home after performing Umrah in Saudi Arabia and had tested positive on 24 March, had also been confirmed as infected with coronavirus. In the evening, he announced that one more person, who had been in contact with the Sopore-based businessman, had tested positive.

Officials revealed to The Quint that the authorities were now tense as nine positive cases had surfaced in J&K in the last two days. “In all, we have had 14 confirmed cases till date. Of them, one has died and one has recovered fully. Of the remaining twelve, 9 are quarantined for treatment in Srinagar and three are in Jammu”, Mr Kansal said.

Also Read: COVID-19: Condition of J&K Hospitals Puts Staff & Patients At Risk

20-25 Potential COVID-19 Carriers Placed in Compulsory Quarantine

Around 25-50 family members, relatives, business associates and Tableeghi cadre of the Sopore businessman were immediately put in compulsory quarantine, and their swabs have been collected for testing. “We are expecting their results in the next 30-40 hours,” said an official who disclosed that some of them had voluntarily come forward for screening, some had gone for self-quarantine, while some others had continued their movement and physical contact with their families, relatives, acquaintances and others.

The Sopore-based businessman belonged arguably to the Valley’s second or third richest family that has businesses spread across cement, textiles and pharmacy to real estate, in both Jammu and Kashmir.

The family also owns apple orchards on hundreds of acres of land. However, the deceased, who owns several houses in Sopore and Srinagar, often used to stay at a nondescript room at Tableeghi Markaz in Sopore.

The family has been at the receiving end of trolls on social media after reports circulated on Monday that he had ‘concealed’ his ‘travel history’ at the hospitals and thus, endangered many lives. It was widely reported in mainstream media and social media that the businessman had lately returned from Malaysia and continued his interaction with the people even after developing symptoms of coronavirus.

During the course of an extensive investigation, The Quint learned that the deceased had not (reportedly) visited any foreign country in the last 6 months.

Early last year, he had performed Umrah in Saudi Arabia, and attended a propagation programme of the Tableeghi Jamaat for three months in Ghana, West Africa in 2018.

After a month-long stay at Nizamuddin, Delhi, in December 2019, he and his wife visited and stayed in the Andaman and Nicobar islands for close to a month afterwards.

Also Read: Ladakh Man Dies of COVID-19 Like Symptoms; Jammu Has First Case

Tableeghi Jamaat: ‘No Structured Organisation’

Tableeghi Jamaat promotes the ideology of the Deobandi school of thought across India and Africa, even as it is not formally affiliated to the Darul Uloom Deoband. Founded by Maulana Illyas Kandelvi, and now headed by his son Maulana Assad, it has its headquarters (called ‘Markaz’) in Bangla Wali Masjid at Nizamuddin in New Delhi. After it split into two factions in 2019, Amir Ahmad Khan alias Parvez of Baramulla, and the deceased Sopore businessman, looked after its factions in J&K.

“Unlike others, we don’t have a structured organisation. We have an Amir but we don’t have any funding, any bank accounts. Benevolent members spend their own money on the movement’s programmes,” said Mufti Masroor of Anantnag, who was among the five members who accompanied the Sopore businessman from Delhi to Deoband to Jammu earlier this month. According to him, the organisation’s members are “in lakhs”, but the head is chosen for just three months. He said that 10,000 members of the network had completed a four-month-long course while 40,000 others had completed forty-day-long courses.

Deceased J&K Businessman ‘Stayed With Foreigners’ in Delhi’s Nizamuddin

In Kashmir, Amir Ahmad Khan’s faction has its headquarters at Rangar Masjid in downtown Srinagar while the deceased man’s faction has its centre at Baitul Kareem Masjid, Bemina, on the outskirts of Srinagar.

Mufti Masroor revealed that he, along with four other Kashmiri members, were waiting for the J&K chief (Sopore-based businessman) when he arrived in Delhi from Srinagar on 7 March. They all stayed at the Nizamuddin centre in a gathering of hundreds, with both Indians and foreigners for two days.

“Thereafter, our group of six travelled from Delhi to Deoband by a chair car train on 10 March. At Deoband, we developed symptoms and went to a Kashmiri physician who runs a clinic there. He prescribed some medicines. We had some improvement but I am still coughing and now in self-quarantine at home (in Anantnag). For two days we stayed with thousands of students and members at Darul Uloom Deoband,” Mufti Masroor said.

Headed by the J&K chief, the group of six reached Jammu by the Shalimar Express train on 13 March and stayed with hundreds of others for two days at a mosque in Bari Barhmna, Samba.

It was here that the deceased man was elected as the J&K chief for next three months. On 16 March, the deceased man travelled by IndiGo flight 6E-554 from Jammu to Srinagar, while five others of his group travelled by road.

Also Read: A Free Omar’s Wish: 4G Internet in J&K, Politics Only Post Corona

Doctors ‘Refused’ to See Potential COVID Patient

Dr Zaffar Anim, nephew of the deceased, who is a businessman-surgeon but not in government service, narrated to The Quint how his uncle developed serious symptoms that made him call a consultant at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura.

"“I revealed to the SKIMS consultant that my uncle has been for several days at the Markaz in Delhi, Deoband and Jammu and he needs screening for COVID-19. He insisted it could be done only if he has foreign travel history. He said he was bound to work as per a protocol that wouldn’t entertain anybody without foreign travel history. He refused to listen to my argument that my uncle had stayed in the company of hundreds of foreigners at the Markaz in Delhi.”" - Dr Zaffar Anim, nephew of the deceased

“On the SKIMS consultant’s advice, I managed my uncle for the next two days at my home in Srinagar. When his condition started deteriorating, I rushed him to SKIMS Medical College Bemina on 21 March. They suspected COVID. Chest Medicine Department examined him and referred him to SKIMS. I straightaway went to the COVID Clinic. I revealed a detailed history, including his January visit to Andaman & Nicobar, to the two resident doctors there. Yet again, screening was declined. Then on a consultant’s advice, the residents sent my uncle back to home. Next morning, his condition worsened further. I called the SKIMS consultant again. He refused to entertain him,” Dr Anim said.

Dr Anim drove his uncle to SMHS Hospital where the physicians suspected him to be a strong case of COVID-19 and referred the patient to Chest Disease Hospital where he tested positive. Two days later, he breathed his last.

“At SKIMS Soura and SKIMS Medical College, I begged for the screening of my uncle. At all the four hospitals, I revealed every detail of my uncle’s travel history. It was duly recorded,” Dr Anim said, refuting allegations that the family had concealed travel history of the deceased.

Also Read: What are the Penalties for Violating the Coronavirus Lockdown?

(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. )

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