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India: Maha-Kumbh Mela Vs Tablighi Jamaat: Not Comparable, But Not For The Reasons Rawat Thinks

Monday 12 April 2021, by siawi3


Maha-Kumbh Mela Vs Tablighi Jamaat: Not Comparable, But Not For The Reasons Rawat Thinks

Tens of thousands of people have gathered by the banks of the Ganga in Haridwar for the Maha Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, even though India is currently witnessing its most severe COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic began, writes Jahnavi Sen.

Photos and videos from the event show that COVID-19 protocols like physical distancing and wearing masks are not being followed at the event.

Even though it was evident from the second week of March that a new surge had begun, the Central and state governments have refused to call off the weeks-long Hindu festival, held once every 12 years.

Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat has said there should no “rok-tok (impediments)” and the mela should be “open for all”. Rawat himself has been an active participant in the organisation for the festival – and in images taken at the site, he can be seen with his mask around his neck rather than his face. “Nobody will be stopped in the name of Covid-19 as we are sure the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus,” he had famously said on March 20.

Inspector General Sanjay Gunjyal told news agency ANI that a “stampede-like situation” could occur if the police tried to ensure social distancing at the kumbh. “We are continuously appealing to people to follow COVID appropriate behaviour. But due to the huge crowd, it is practically not possible to issue challans today. It is very difficult to ensure social distancing at ghats,” he said.

The Indian Express reported that the Uttarakhand police is using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to pinpoint COVID-19 protocol violations. AI-equipped cameras will apparently zoom in on and capture photographs of faces without masks. Officially said 350 CCTV cameras have been installed in Haridwar, more than 100 of which have the AI sensor. Given the size of the crowds gathering, and breaking norms), though, it is unclear how the police will act post facto.

A surge in COVID-19 cases is already being reported from the city. There are currently 2,056 active cases in Haridwar and 386 people tested positive on Sunday. Last week, on April 4, the number of active cases was 837, NDTV reported. Those attending the mela are now required to carry a negative RT-PCR test when they arrive. But there is no protocol in place to ensure devotees who get infected at Haridwar do not go on to spread the virus when they return to their home districts.

There are three main days of the Kumbh Mela, known as the ‘Shahi Snan (royal bath)’ days – April 12, 14 and 27. The authorities seem unwilling to stop crowding on these days even though the disease is currently spreading at breakneck speed across the country. Instead, the Indianking Covid safety rules railways has organised 25 special trains on these three days linking Haridwar to various locations for the pilgrims, PTI reported.
...The hypersensitivity and lack of concern for public health in the face of the mahakumbh is in stark contrast to the Modi government’s handing of the outbreak of COVID-19 last year detected at the Nizamuddin Markaz of the Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi.

Unlike the mahakumbh, that event was attended by about 3,500 people and was held before the government had imposed any sort of restrictions on public gatherings or travel from abroad. This was also when several Central leaders had scoffed at those saying the pandemic should be taken seriously.

“The Kumbh Mela shouldn’t be compared to the Markaz,” Uttarakhand chief minister Rawat recently told Hindustan Times, “…because now people know they should sanitise their hands and wear masks.”

Leaving aside the fact that masks are largely absent at the kumbh, the two events aren’t comparable, but for a different reason: the Markaz was one-tenth the event the Kumbh Mela is, and was held when the dangers of the novel coronavirus were barely known. The Kumbh Mela, on the other hand, is flouting the guidelines the government has put in place, as if they do not exist for the followers of Hinduism.