Maulana Saad Kandhalvi accused of violating social distancing guidelines despite the lockdown orders by Indian PM Narendra Modi. Missionary group says people stayed at its headquarters due to the sudden cancellation of rail and transport services.
India on Wednesday brought charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, head of the Muslim missionary group Tablighi Jamaat, and six others, a police official said.
The group – which spreads elementary knowledge of Islam – is in the headlines as reports of coronavirus cases from various parts of India are being linked to its gatherings.
The Indian media is painting Muslims in general, and the group in particular, as villains in the battle against Covid-19.
The government earlier filed a case against Kandhalvi for arranging a gathering at its headquarters in the Nizamuddin locality in the heart of New Delhi, the capital.
According to a Delhi police statement, Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code was added to his case, as many people who attended the religious gathering in March succumbed to the disease.
Authorities accuse Kandhalvi of violating social distancing guidelines despite the lockdown orders by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India's tally of coronavirus infections is at 12,380, including 414 deaths, as of Thursday.
In the coronavirus hot spot of Delhi, 1,080 of its 1,561 cases were linked to the group's gathering, according to the city government data on Wednesday.
The Tablighi administrators earlier said many of the followers who had visited its offices in a narrow, winding lane in Delhi's historic Nizamuddin quarter were stranded after the government declared a three-week lockdown, and the centre had to offer them shelter.
Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist government have cautioned against fanning communal tension by laying the blame for the spread of the coronavirus on the Muslim group.
Officials have rejected suggestions they were unfairly targeting the Muslim community, but said they had to rebuke the group because it had behaved irresponsibly by ignoring social-distancing rules.
Kandhalvi, 55, is the great-grandson of Muhammad Ilyas Kandhalvi, who founded the group in 1926 in a rural region of Mewat, on the outskirts of Delhi.
The group has millions of members spread across 90 countries, including Australia, the UK, US, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Tablighis are also linked to a surge of cases in neighbouring Pakistan, where it cancelled a similar gathering, but only at the last minute when thousands had already arrived at a premises in the city of Lahore.
A gathering organised by the group in Malaysia also led to a surge of cases there and in several other Southeast Asian countries.
Pakistan has recorded 6,505 cases according to its latest data, a jump of 520 over the previous day.
About 60 percent of Pakistan's cases were linked to the Tablighi Jamaat or people who had gone on religious pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, officials said.