COVID-19 | Nizamuddin residents fight ‘virus hotspot’ tag

COVID-19 | Nizamuddin residents fight ‘virus hotspot’ tag

While COVID-19 cases have come solely from the Tablighi Jamaat building, the area’s reputation has hurt in more ways than one

On an ordinary day, the ‘langar’ (communal kitchen) at Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah would produce food for about 5,000 needy people who throng the shrine of Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia.

The area has been in lockdown since March 24, but under especially strict surveillance by police and paramilitary personnel since the outbreak of COVID-19 was detected at the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz (centre) not far from the area.

Tainted by one building

Now, says Syed Aziz Nizami, whose family has been the caretakers of the shrine for hundreds of years, the kitchen can only cater to about 100-200 people a day, and volunteers deliver the food outside of the area, as no one is allowed in. More than anything, says Mr. Nizami, he is saddened by how the entire area, named after the famous 13th century Sufi saint, has been “tainted” by one building, belonging to the Tablighi Jamaat, as a “COVID-19 hotspot”.

Badnamgi toh hui hai [Our name has been spoilt],” he says, explaining that he himself had never been inside in the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters, a lesser-known Islamic organisation espousing rigorous religious practices. “We had no idea there were so many people, so many foreigners inside. The dargah’s door is open to all faiths, unlike theirs,” he adds.

Significantly, despite the entire Nizamuddin area being referred to as a “hotspot”, cases of the novel COVID-19 have only come from the Tablighi Jamaat building, where hundreds of foreign nationals from Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Thailand attended a conference in mid-March, leading to the largest spike in confirmed cases in the country.

Over the last week, health and municipal workers have conducted door-to-door sanitation programmes, and testing of the residents in about 2,000 homes surrounding the building, but “no case of COVID-19 has been reported in the immediate neighbourhood of the centre”, an official told The Hindu.

‘Blind panic’

Area municipal councillor Yasmeen Kidwai says that the coverage of the case in the media, and a lack of officially verified information has spread “blind panic” amongst residents.

“I wish there had been protocols followed to calm people’s unfounded fears that the whole area has been contaminated,” she told The Hindu, calling for a report on best practices to be followed at “COVID-19 hotspots” to be adopted by the government.

The area’s reputation has hurt in more ways, say residents. It is hard to access vegetables and regular supplies as many vendors stay away. Noor Jehan, 28, says she goes out of the house only once every three days, to try and find provisions for her family that includes her two-year old son and seven-year old daughter. As the manager for a ladies cooperative kebab delivery outlet called ‘Zaika e Nizamuddin’, Ms. Jehan says she has been doubly hit during the lockdown.

Despite the government permitting food outlets to run deliveries, the 11 women who run the cooperative felt it would be safer to shut down operations until restrictions are lifted, and have lost out on a steady source of income as a result.

In fact, they could have done brisk business, given that delivery companies like Swiggy and Zomato have suspended all operations to the Nizamuddin area, including the crowded Nizamuddin Basti where the Tablighi Manzil is, and the more upmarket Nizamuddin East and Nizamuddin West colonies nearby.

Hospital refused to help

What’s worse is that two days ago, says the local Residents’ Welfare Association (RWA), a renowned Delhi hospital nearby even refused to send an ambulance when an aged, diabetic resident of the area, whose sugar levels had dropped, needed to be rushed to the hospital. Another hospital sent an ambulance in the nick of time, says president of the Nizamuddin East Colony Association Rajive Chaudhury. “Fear is bringing out the worst in so many people,” he told The Hindu.

“It seems it isn’t just a battle against the disease, but pitting people against each other.”

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