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18 April, 2021 09:34:54 PM
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DATELINE INDIA- KUMBH JIHAD

KUMKUM CHADHA
DATELINE INDIA- KUMBH JIHAD

It is a disaster waiting to happen:  actually, one that is well on its way to destruction in a country where politics and religion rule over health. 

This is exactly what seems to be happening in India in the past few weeks where a religious event like the Kumbh Mela and election rallies have played havoc with the lives of people.

The second wave of Covid-19 in India seems to have come with a vengeance. Just when people were settling down to the feel-good factor about the virus almost disappearing, the sudden spike in cases has set alarm bells ringing. Initially, the second wave was confined to a few states but within days every state was engulfed. 

The daily rise in Covid-19 cases in India crossed one lakh in 25 days compared to last year when it took 76 days for daily cases to touch 97,894 cases: on September 17 to be precise.

The Government has conceded that the situation is getting  “bad to worse” and that the next two weeks could be crucial. Last month’s “concerns” of a spike have turned into a grim reality: the second wave threatening to be more lethal than the first. 

Add to that the stress on the already collapsing health system and the picture is nothing short of a disaster. Even at a conservative estimate of 100,000 cases each day through the length and breadth of the country, there would be a daily requirement of at least 5,000, maybe double the number of beds every day, for critical care and the corresponding oxygen supply.  Worse still, hospitals are faced with shortages be it of drugs, beds or oxygen. 

The Modi government is on record blaming the people for the second surge. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has publicly stated that the second wave is happening “because of lack of commitment…of the people, where they are taking everything so casually…that no one is interested in wearing the mask…there’s no respect for the norms of social distancing”.

One cannot fault the government for this public admission but it needs to stop and ponder: is it passing the buck? It needs to ask itself how much has it contributed to the surge given that it looked the other way when hundreds and thousands of people gathered for a religious congregation in the northern state of Uttarakhand to celebrate the Kumbh Mela: a festival that entails a holy dip in the sacred waters to cleanse the soul and be freed  from past sins. 

Considered as the largest gathering in the world, the Kumbh is held every 12 years in rotation in Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Bringing together a sea of devotees and pilgrims, this year’s Mahakumbh is being held in Haridwar in Uttarakhand, marked by mask-less crowds converging, rubbing shoulders and bathing in the river Ganges. 

Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat has admitted that some  32 lakh devotees bathed in one single day. In the same breath, he declared that no one will be stopped from reaching Haridwar. 

Rawat kept his word. No one was stopped. The crowds were not only allowed but were permitted in complete violation of Covid-19 protocol which means they were without masks and in close proximity to each other. 

If eye witness accounts are anything to go by, there was a stampede like situation. The district administration and local Police turned a blind eye to the goings-on in a state governed by a Chief Minister who has publicly stated that faith of devotees will overcome the fear of Covid-19 while extending an open invitation to “all devotees across the world” to take a holy dip in the Ganges during the Mahakumbh: “Nobody will be stopped in the name of Covid-19 as we are sure that the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus”, Rawat declared unabashedly. That Rawat himself tested positive in less than a week is another matter. 

Cut to Golden Temple in the holy city of Amritsar in the state of Punjab where masks are not allowed. Serpentine queues mark the holy precincts, rubbing shoulders with each other but attempt to wear a mask and you are stopped from entering the sanctum sanctorum; refuse to take it off and you are turned away; argue and you are told that if you are not safe in “guru ke dware”, God’s home, where else will you remain protected? 

Or take the political rallies and the vigorous campaigning for the ongoing  state elections where the BJP has made it a do-or- die  kind of a contest in Mamata Banerjee ruled West Bengal. Here, as in the other election bound states, caution is thrown to the winds. 

Taking the lead is Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his aggressive campaigning and addressing huge crowds one after another. 

Crowds being the hallmark of success and popularity of any leader, party stalwarts ensure that people in large numbers turn up for mega events like Prime Minister Modi or Union Minister Amit Shah’s rallies and road shows. Even this time around, strategists did not fail their leaders and ensured a record turnout in election rallies. 

Quite shockingly, none other than the country’s Health Minister tweeted about the enthused crowds who had come to listen to the PM in Tarkeshwar in West Bengal. His tweet, roughly translated, claimed that the enthused crowds are a signal to Didi, Mamata Banerjee, that her time is up. It is ironic, to say the least, that India’s Health Minister whose primary responsibility is to ensure that protocols are followed in trying times, is hailing crowds in an election rally. That they were without masks and violating the social distancing norm is a given. 

For record, earlier this month,  Narendra Modi had appealed for strict adherence to MSD — mask and social distancing — besides washing hands. But the political rallies that he addressed tell a different story. 

With the Prime Minister and top BJP leaders having no qualms about wooing numbers at gatherings and Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, also from the BJP, saying that there is “no need to wear masks”, the callousness, apathy and contempt for regulation  is complete. Consequently, there is a if they can why can’t I syndrome which is gripping the common man in India. 

One can, however, argue and rightly so, that it is not only the BJP  which is going full steam while campaigning. Didi or Mamata Banerjee, Congress, the Left parties are all villains of the piece. There is content in this argument because every party be it in West Bengal, Kerala, Assam or Tamil Nadu has campaigned giving a go-by to safety norms. 

However, the BJP cannot take refuge in this argument. Since it is in government, it has a national responsibility, particularly the Prime Minister, to ensure the safety of its people. Therefore, when Modi  leads from the  front and addresses people who are violating safety norms then it only reflects the lack of seriousness on the part of this government. Equally, when big boys namely Modi and Shah, are playing the game against all rules, then why blame the minions be it a Chief Minister or the Health Minister? They will sing to the tune set by the composer. 

As against this, a few questions stare in one’s face: Does the BJP have a different yardstick for Hindus and Muslims? Does it spare its own while cracking the whip on others? If there can be a Kumbh Mela then why not a Jamaat? If millions can congregate in Haridwar then why not a few hundred in mosques for Ramzan? If hundreds and thousands can gather to take a dip in the Ganges then why stop a few hundred from  assembling in Nizamuddin? 

For the uninitiated, the Tablighi Jamaat event in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area was dubbed as a “super spreader.” Last year, some 3500 odd Tablighi members had gathered for an event in Nizamuddin in New Delhi from across the country and also abroad. 

The Jamaat has active members in 150 countries and interact with the Muslim community to adhere to the basic tenets of Islam. 

It was later discovered that the members who had travelled from countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia  had not revealed  their travel history. It, then, emerged that the gathering had, allegedly, caused the biggest coronavirus spike in India. 

Panic gripped the country as many among those who attended the meeting at the Markaz had spread out to other states and came in contact with people across the  country. The government launched a massive search to identify the “culprits” while  people spew venom at them reducing it to a onecommunity versus another battle. 

Leading from the front was the BJP which painted all Muslims black and castigated them: overnight they were tainted and declared outcastes. They were dubbed as “human bombs” and alleged to have been “sent” to India as carriers to spread the virus. With that the word ‘corona jihad” was born. 

A year has passed since then. India is in the grip of another surge: perhaps deadlier than the one last year. The super-spreaders have descended, yet again, in large numbers except their origin and religion is different: they chant Hindu mantras instead of reading the Quran; they bathe in the Ganges instead of paying obeisance to Allah; they fast during Ramzan rather than being puritans during Navratri,  the nine- day religious festival of Hindus. And while on numbers their 2500 odd are miniscule in the face of lakhs converging in Haridwar every single day or those carrying party banners in political rallies and road shows. 

Currently, a greater calamity stares India in the face: one that has dangerous consequences and one that the government willfully chooses to overlook. Sure, public pressure has led to an admission on the dangers of putting religion and politics above health but it has been limited to lip service because not much has changed on ground. The bathing continues as do religious rituals in Haridwar with unprecedented crowds and even while the Government can see the dangers of these violations it chooses not to act. 

The results are there for everyone to see: the corona jihad was but a speck; it is the kumbh jihad that is the monster and no one but the Government is to be blamed for letting the genie out of the bottle. 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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