Upcoming festive season: A trigger for third wave?

Governments fail to learn lesson from second wave

Politics

July 22, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Upcoming festive season: A trigger for third wave?

With many religious festivals lined up over the next  few months, religious gatherings are likely to multiply all over the country (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Religious gatherings that are considered by scientists as one of the reasons behind the second wave are still neglected by the government as the third wave approaches India.

Ever since the pandemic hit India, different state governments as well as the Centre officially promoted social distancing and banned large gatherings. However, the reality as seen in pictures and various events was something else.

According to a study by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in March 2021, coronavirus mutants that are believed to be the reason behind the second wave, were introduced by travellers returning from overseas and transmitted within the country by migrant workers and those attending religious gatherings, such as the Kumbh Mela that saw millions descend on Uttarakhand from January-April, 2021.

ICMR has also warned that India will see around hundred thousand cases every single day with the commencement of third wave by August end. The  predicted third wave is likely to coincide with many festivals across India, putting pressure on the government to allow these gatherings or turn a blind eye to them.

For instance, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had ordered to ease down COVID-19 restrictions for three days for Bakrid, an Islamic festival, earlier this week. The decision was sharply criticised by the Indian Medical Association (IMA), who warned the government against loosening of restrictions, pointing to an already high number of daily infections and deaths in the state. IMA also threatened to move the Supreme Court if Kerala government did not immediately withdraw its permission for Bakrid. This forced the government to abandon its move.

Just days earlier, a similar instance was seen in Uttar Pradesh, when the Supreme Court cracked down on the Uttar Pradesh government for  agreeing to hold Kanwar Yatra. However, after the Court’s intervention the government cancelled  the event, which sees millions of devotees traverse the country on foot.

For its part the neighbouring state of Uttarakhand had banned the Yatra before the Supreme Court intervened. “We chose to cancel the yatra, giving first priority to human life…we don’t want Haridwar to be the epicentre of the epidemic, especially because a new variety has been discovered in the state…we can’t take any chance,” Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Dhami told media.

Throughout May and June, Haridwar, Dehradun, and Udham Singh Nagar districts accounted for about 70 pc of total deaths in Uttarakhand. If the Kanwar Yatra had taken place, it would have drawn three to four times the number of pilgrims as those visiting Mahakumbh. In 15 days, over 30 to 40 million pilgrims would have visited Uttarakhand, compared to over nine million people at the Mahakumbh.

Comparing both the states Supreme Court lawyer Atif Suhrawardy said, “I truly appreciate the step taken by the newly elected chief minister of Uttarakhand. One of the biggest contributors to the second wave was what happened in Haridwar during the Kumbh Mela. At least the Uttarakhand government has made an effort by learning from their mistake. They have taken a very strong stand.”

Allowing such religious gatherings even with so called restrictions on number of people don’t work. Suhrawardy argues that the “some people” criteria will not work. “All these proposals look good only on paper but when it comes on practical implementation of these, nothing works. Who are they going to refuse and on what basis,” the lawyer adds.

The governments’ inclination towards allowing religious gatherings despite a mortal second wave contrasts sharply with the hullaballoo made over Tablighi Jamaat, a gathering of a Muslim scholars from around the world, last year in March, even before the government had banned any social or religious gathering or imposed social distancing.

With a large section of the media and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party calling the Jamaat and the participants superspreaders, without any evidence at all, the government arrested hundreds of participants and locked down the offices of the Jamaat’s organisers, Markaz, at Nizamuddin in New Delhi. Most of those arrested were released months later and only after rebukes by several courts across the country for arresting them without any evidence.

Though a few of the attendees did test positive for Covid-19 later, the gathering itself had never been banned and subsequent studies by ICMR did not find any major correlation. However, Kumbh Mela, has been blamed for being one of the major drivers of the second wave.

With many religious festivals lined up over the next  few months, religious gatherings are likely to multiply all over the country, if state governments succumb to popular pressure. This could be extremely dangerous in terms of preventing the third wave of the pandemic. As some of the states are headed to elections shortly, notably Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab, the governments may be tempted to appease people by permitting gatherings. But some pin their hopes on the judiciary to intervene, should any government allow gatherings.

“The judiciary will definitely not let this happen. The honourable High Court of Allahabad will surely interfere, they will definitely take suo motu action in these cases. We have seen that whenever the system fails it is the judiciary which comes to the rescue as we have already seen in cases of migrant workers and oxygen shortage,” Suhrawady tells Media India Group. “When the government fails to fulfil its constitutional and moral duty, then the court has not hesitated to take the step forward,” the lawyer argued, pointing at the UP government.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Moinuddin Ahmed says:

    A good magazine is written in truth, in this if there are such true journalists in our country, then there will be no disease or any kind of loss in our country, my best wishes are with you.

  2. Farha says:

    A very good article which shows the bitter truth behind the spread of this Pendamic ( Covid-19 ).

  3. Mohsin Qureshi says:

    This is the harsh reality of the country that people are seen on the basis of religion rather than human being and ruling govt.played vitial role in it. All this prejudice must be stopped otherwise nation is a heading towards disaster.

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