Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, the chief of the Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat that organised a religious congregation in Delhi last month setting off India's largest cluster of coronavirus cases, has said in a letter to the city police that he has already joined the investigation against him, adding that he is "willing to cooperate".
"I have already joined the investigation by replying two notices U/s 91 Cr.Pc dated 01.04.2020 & 02.04 both issued by your good office," 56-year-old Tablighi Jamaat head wrote to the Crime Branch. "It is reiterated that I am always ready & willing to cooperate with the investigation being conducted by you," the letter dated April 16 (Thursday) reads.
On Thursday, the Delhi Police had brought charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the chief of the Islamic Missionary for holding the gathering last month at its "Markaz" or headquarters in Nizamuddin, the 100-year-old building in the crowded south Delhi locality where the Tablighi Jamaat is based.
"Delhi police had filed a first information report earlier against the Tablighi chief, now section 304 has been added," an officer said, referring to culpable homicide in the penal code, which carries a maximum punishment of a 10-year prison term.
Maulana Saad, who was under self-quarantine till April 8, is accused of encouraging people to congregate and stay at the "Markaz", trashing all coronavirus-related warnings of social distancing and defying a ban on large gatherings.
His lawyer had said that he would join the probe after the isolation period ends.
The Tablighi is one of the world's biggest Sunni Muslim organisations with followers in more than 80 countries. At least 9,000 people participated in the Nizamuddin event. Later, many of the attendees travelled to various parts of the country.
More than 1,000 coronavirus cases reported across the country are estimated to be linked to the gathering, the government had said earlier this month. Over 25,500 Tablighi members and their contacts have been quarantined in the country after the centre and the state governments conducted a massive operation to trace them.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, a Muslim organisation, had approached the Supreme Court seeking to stop sections of the media from allegedly giving a communal colour to reportage on COVID-19 cases linked to the event held by Tablighi Jamaat. The court, however, said on Monday that it will not pass any order that would lead to a "gag" on the media.
"If it's a question of killing or dying, your remedy is somewhere else. But if it's a question of larger reporting then the Press Council of India has to be made a party... I think you add the Press Council as a party to your case," Chief Justice of India SA Bobde told the petitioner. "We will not gag the press," said the Supreme Court bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and MM Shantanagoudar.