Despite COVID-19, millions gather along the Ganges for Kumbh Mela
The Hindu pilgrimage is taking place without social distancing and with few people wearing masks while schools and shops are closed. For Father Mathew, the government’s hypocrisy is evident.
Varanasi (AsiaNews) – In India the number of reported COVID-19 cases is reaching new highs every day, but in the State of Uttarakhand, the Hindu pilgrimage on the Ganges for the Kumbh Mela festival is still going on attracting millions of people.
At least a million pilgrims are expected each day in Har Ki Pauri, the ghat (stepped wharf) in the city of Haridwar. For the duration of the festival (1-30 April), the banks of the Ganges will thus be crowded with people, many without masks, in violation of health regulations.
Yesterday, almost three million people gathered, with virtually no social distancing. Police Inspector General Sanjay Gunjyal defended himself by saying that many could have died if rules were enforced as worshippers came to the banks to dip into the waters of the sacred river.
According to official data, only 18,169 pilgrims were tested for the COVID-19 with 102 testing positive.
Father Anand Mathew, a priest with the Indian Missionary Society who has served for more than 40 years in Varanasi, is the director of the Vishwa Jyoti Communications and heads the Sajha Sanskriti Manch interfaith forum.
“The administration of the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar claims that three million worshippers took the sacred bath yesterday in Har Ki Pauri. This is a very small area,” he told AsiaNews.
“Let's think about what can happen if there is even a single case of asymptomatic positive to COVID-19 among those pilgrims. They would infect many others.
“The government’s hypocrisy and different standards are evident: schools and colleges are closed; at night, the curfew is in place, shops are open only for a few hours, and there are restrictions on weddings and funerals,” Fr Mathew explained.
“In our community we had to suspend Good Friday liturgies because we couldn’t respect the COVID-19 protocols. Yet the Hindu religious festival in Haridwar must go on.
“The Uttarakhand government had planes fly over pilgrims dropping flower petals. But VIPs were advised not to participate in the sacred bathing. Their health is more important than that of ordinary people.
“Secularism in India does not mean denial of religion, but equal and respectful treatment of all religions. The latest developments prove that we are no longer a secular country and it is a concern for those of us who care about protecting the Indian constitution.”