In India, a U.S. citizen was arrested and prosecuted for allegedly breaking lockdown rules and spreading the coronavirus at the gathering of an Islamic revivalist movement. Now, he's coming back home.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
A year ago, Ahmed Ali, a U.S. citizen from Buffalo, N.Y., landed in India's capital with his wife and in-laws. He was there to attend an Islamic religious gathering. Well, soon after, hundreds of the event's attendees were arrested and prosecuted by the Indian government for allegedly breaking lockdown rules and spreading the coronavirus. As Apoorva Mittal reports from New Delhi, what followed was a year-long battle to return home to the U.S.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).
AHMED ALI: (Non-English language spoken).
How are you? We are coming back soon.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yay.
APOORVA MITTAL, BYLINE: That's Ahmed Ali talking to his three kids on the phone. For the past year, Ali and his wife have been stuck in New Delhi, separated from their three children back home in Buffalo. Now, they're finally going home.
ALI: My son said, you know, I can't wait to see you. I can't wait to see you (laughter). How many days more? How many days more, you know (laughter)? He said yay - jumping and, you know, screaming (laughter). They're so happy, yeah.
MITTAL: It has been a year since Ali landed in New Delhi for the Tablighi Jamaat conference. Soon thereafter, nearly a thousand of the attendees were arrested. And over the past year, Ali says he and his family have spent time in shelters, quarantine centers and an infectious disease hospital. Police claimed he tested positive, but he says they never showed him the results.
ALI: More than 10 times they tested us about COVID-19. They put us in the infectious disease hospital after 30 day. No one took even Tylenol during these 30 days, you know?
MITTAL: He says he didn't feel sick, and no one gave him any medication. Most of the attendees who were arrested took the plea deal, paid a fine and were released several months ago. Ali, his family and 40 other attendees, though, decided to contest the charges. Late last year, a court acquitted all of them. Ashima Madla, the attorney, says the prosecution provided no evidence to back the charges against them.
ASHIMA MANDLA: There was no documentation on record to show that - how many of them were actually corona positive. There was not even a single medical report attached in the charge sheet which showed that such and such person was tested positive for COVID-19.
MITTAL: Ali says, despite the hardships, fighting to clear his name was the right decision.
ALI: I really satisfied about the justice system, you know? Some of the judge are not a Muslim, but they stand with the righteous, you know? I appreciate so much about it.
MITTAL: One of India's high court said the Tablighi Jamaat attendees were scapegoated in a time of calamity, but no one has apologized to them. Despite that, Ali says he doesn't hold any grudges and says he fell in love with India's diversity.
ALI: I have zero worry about India, you know? I love Indian people, you know?
MITTAL: He's expected to return to the U.S. this week and is already talking about coming back to India.
ALI: I talked to one of the guy, you know, hey, look one of the house or land, you know, I plan to buy here and, you know, I have a plan to come here every year (laughter).
MITTAL: Ali has a lot to figure out once he's back. He used to work as a pharmacist before the pandemic. Now, he's got to find another job in Buffalo. But more than anything else, he just wants to see his kids.
For NPR News, I'm Apoorva Mittal in New Delhi.