‘Miss my mother, miss the sea’, says 16-year-old detained for Markaz event
Among the 900 foreigners detained in March and April from across the city for allegedly spreading the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and defying government orders on large gatherings by attending a congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic missionary group, is a 16-year-old boy from Ukraine.
The teenager, who turned 16 in January in India, is being held in a south Delhi facility along with 200 others who participated in the congregation at the Markaz headquarters of the group in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti.The cases of the participants are being heard in different courts.
Frequently wiping the sweat on his brow and shifting uneasily in the humid climate he is yet to get used to, the boy said he’s been in India for seven months. Coming from a country known for its cold and snowy winters, he said he’s finding it difficult to adjust to the scorching heat and humidity of the Indian capital.
After a trip to Nepal and Aurangabad, the boy, accompanied by his father, had moved into the Nizamuddin Markaz on March 22, just days before the country went into a complete lockdown for Covid-19.
A three-month trip that was supposed to have been a post-exam vacation ended up stretching into an almost five-month detention. Though not officially charged by police, his passport was seized, and he was lodged with his father at quarantine detention centres since being evacuated from the Markaz on March 31.
Following a Delhi high court order on May 28, the foreign attendees at the Markaz congregation -- after their release from quarantine centres – were housed in different court-approved facilities across the city.
The 16-year-old is lodged at a school turned into a temporary detention facility in Jamia Nagar, where the detained attendees sleep in classrooms turned into sleeping spaces.
“We were supposed to return in May. I was to join a new school in September, but I cannot do that now. I miss my mother and my family. I was enjoying my visit to the country. This was my first time. I do not know why I am not allowed to return,” he said.
Trapped in the national capital since March, the teenager has also learnt Hindi words such as “Sathi (friend)” and “Nahi (no)”. When asked if he had tested positive for Covid-19, he replied: “Nahi.”
He is the only minor at the facility that is mostly housing senior citizens and couples. The teenager spends most of his time browsing the internet and playing mobile games alone in empty classrooms. His days are spent joining the adults in the centre in offering prayers or catching up with their experiences in the country.
“I miss my mother, even though I speak to her and my two elder brothers over video call. It is not the same as being there with them. I am not sure when I will be able to be with them but I miss them and can’t wait to go back,” he said, recalling how he had always been pampered, being the youngest child of the family.
The teenager’s father, Fazluddin, a businessman in Ukraine, said they had come to India on December 20 and visited Nepal, and Aurangabad in Maharashtra. It was his second visit to the country. For his son, it was the first.
“We came to the Markaz on March 22. We were not preaching. We visited religious places as part of our learning experience. On March 31, we had no symptoms but were taken by the government officials to the quarantine centre in Tughlakabad. We were given a room, where we stayed for around one-and-a-half months. We did not face any problems at the centre, though. It is unfortunate that he is trapped here with me,” Fazluddin said, adding that he and his son had tested negative for the coronavirus disease.
Aslam Masuri, who helps the foreigners at the centre, said: “This is no age for a child to be trapped in a foreign country and unable to return home. We are adults and can manage the stress. For a boy of his age, he has suffered enough. His case should be considered and he should be sent back immediately. The only solace in all this is that he is at least with his father.”
When contacted, Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) member Roop Sudesh Vimal said that the commission had not been informed that a minor had also been moved to the quarantine centre along with those taken into custody in the Markaz case.
“We will take cognizance and see if the authorities followed all protocols in the case of this minor,” said Vimal.
At the centre, other attendees said that the two are always together. “He always walks behind his father. He is a shy boy,” one of the foreigners said.
Stuck in the city for the last seven months and scared of a lengthy trial that could prolong their stay, the teenager’s father last week pled guilty and agreed to a plea bargain. He has been convicted and let off with a fine of Rs 5,000 and simple imprisonment of five days(already undergone in quarantine). The court convicted him under the Foreigners Act, Epidemic Diseases Act and Disaster Management Act.
HT contacted the Ukraine embassy and also emailed a questionnaire to the mission seeking its response to the minor’s case, but it elicited no reply until Thursday night. An official at the embassy, who did not want to be named, said: “We are helping our nationals stranded in the country and provided all assistance. We do not want to make any official comment on the legal aspect of the cases because of the diplomatic ties of the country.”
Commenting on the minor being lodged in quarantine for around two months, a senior Delhi government official said that the administration had followed the Centre’s orders while sending foreigners from the Markaz to the quarantine centres.
Fazluddin said he and his son were now waiting for the government’s order to leave the country. He said they would have to spend another 14 days in quarantine after reaching home but wouldn’t mind that .
“I long for the sea. If I was home during the summer, I would have been out swimming with my friends. I cannot see any sea here,” the teenager said in response to what he misses the most about home.