COVID-19 double standards: Muslims without mosque, Hindu with Kumbh Mela bathing

In New Delhi, Muslims turn to the High Court to reopen a mosque for Ramadan. Uttarakhand's chief minister dismisses comparisons, claiming that the sacred Ganges will stop the virus.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The sight of hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the banks of the Ganges River for the Kumbh Mela Hindu festival is raising tensions among India’s religious communities.

Across the country, a new surge in COVID-19 cases is reaching new records, 184,372 new cases with 1,027 deaths reported yesterday alone.

To control the pandemic, churches and mosques are under tight restrictions with limits on the number of worshippers they can allow during services. Such controls do not seem to apply to Hindus. For this reason, some are complaining about government double standards.

Many Christian communities have had to cancel Good Friday celebrations because they could not respect anti-COVID protocols, Father Anand Mathew, of the Indian Missionary Society, told AsiaNews yesterday.

Underscoring the situation is the decision of the Nizamuddin mosque in New Delhi to file a case before the Delhi High Court in order to reopen for prayers during Ramadan, which began yesterday.

The mosque has been closed since 31 March 2020, a few days after the government introduced a nationwide lockdown. This followed a large gathering organised by Tablighi Jamaat, an international Islamic organisation, which ended in a great number of people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

On Monday, the Court ruled in favour of the mosque, basing its argument that it is not possible to impose limits that do not apply to all places of worship in the city.

The federal government responded by arguing that the Delhi Disaster Management Authority currently prohibits any gathering and therefore no more than 20 worshippers could be admitted to the Muslim place of worship.

Ramesh Gupta, a lawyer representing the Waqf, the Islamic body that administers the mosque, responded by citing the ongoing Kumbh Mela celebrations in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, on the banks of the Ganges, as well as the Hindu temple dedicated to Hanuman in Karol Bagh, Delhi, where social distancing rules are not being respected.

The court asked the central government to file an affidavit detailing how anti-COVID rules are being followed in all places of worship.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat, a Hindu nationalist, reacted angrily to the comparisons, claiming that the two situations are very different.

At the mosque, people “were all inside a building and here it is out in the open,” Rawat said. The Kumbh Mela “is near the Ganges. The flow and blessings of Ma Ganga will ensure that coronavirus does not spread.” However, in Haridwar 1,002 people have tested positive to the virus in the last two days.

Meanwhile, the Hindu festival is set to continue until 30 April with the greatest influx of people on 27 April when millions of pilgrims are expected to gather on the banks of the Ganges.