Faith, Politics and Public Health: Covid 19


The second and more serious wave of covid 19 is in the air. While the society is in the grip of shortage of beds, shortage of Oxygen cylinders and the necessary medicines, the Covid warriors are doing a remarkable job of trying to fulfill the needs of the community to keep the impact of pandemic to the minimum. Many voluntary organizations have come forward to lend their helping hands in matters of food and other relief material. While one can see the humanity’s best face in combating the pandemic, there are aspects of governance which are jarring in a civilized society like ours’.

Politically we saw the massive rallies for elections in the five states, West Bengal being the foremost. In the eight phase elections, planned by the Election Commission using its wisdom or lack of it, the matters are lingering painfully. As the covid surge has resurfaced, going towards unmanageable peaks, Rahul Gandhi of Congress and then Mamata Bannerjee called off his rallies in West Bengal, to avert the impact of Covid through mass crowding. In response Mr. Amit Shah of BJP said that the election rallies are not having any adverse effect, as the number of cases in WB is not more than Maharashtra for example. This is a delusional statement. One knows that such massive gatherings are dangerous spreaders and will increase the Corona victims in due course.

Mr. Shah also states that they have distributed crores of masks. But one can see in the photos of rallies that people are hardly wearing masks. This is a total mauling of public health protocol. The heartening thing is that the major opposition party, Congress is giving positive suggestions to the ruling BJP as seen in the suggestions offered by ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the ruling party.

At another level, one of the great religious spectacles of our country, Kumbh, is going on in Hardwar, Uttakakhand. These Kumbhs are a great event in the faith of the people, where celebration of the ‘life giving rivers’ and devotees merge into a spiritual experience. The Chief Minister of Uttarkahand Mr. Teerath Singh Rawat encouraged the massive gatherings. His understanding was that blessing of Mother Ganga, the holy deity of the most revered river in India will ward off the threat of Corona.

What happened was just the contrary. Lakhs of devotees, without masks and bare clothes on body; took the dips. Shahi Snana (Royal Bath) twice and the result was the outbreak of overt signs and symptoms of Corona. Rising cases of Covid-19 among the saints at the Kumbh and death of top seer Mahamandaleshwar Kapil Dev Das (65) of the Niranjani Akhada on Thursday due to the corona virus has led to the Niranjani Akhada’s exit from the grand festival. As per spokesperson of Niranjani Akhada, “many in our akhada are showing Covid-19 symptoms” in the camps at Hardwar.

A day before the Prime Minister, neck deep in the electoral rallies in different parts of the country particularly WB, issued an appeal of symbolic Kumbh. Surely it is a wee bit too late in the day, as many of those participating in the holy event have already started feeling the pangs of the pandemic. And when they will return to their cities, they will be carrying along the disease.

The media and popular communication was of no help in warding off the preventable tragedy. Next few weeks will tell us the extent of total impact of the spread of the virus due to electoral process and due to the process of faith, the Kumbh! While all efforts are being made to underplay the impact of these two congregations, one recalls the process which was totally opposed to it. This time Mr. Rawat, the Uttarakhand said that the Kumbh cannot be compared to Markaz of Tablighi Jamaat. As per his expert opinion Markaz was held in a closed space had the possibility of the society being affected, while Kumbh is being placed in open space so it will not affect others. This sectarian angle is again bereft of any logic, as the people get affected due to droplet infections, which are there in closed as well as open spaces.

One recalls the plight of Tablighi Jamaat people, who actually were caught unawares. That was the beginning of the global tragedy. The Markaz was planned and people assemble with due permission (March 2020). The Tablighi Jamaat’s (TJ) seminar (March 13-15) in Markaz Nizamuddin was blamed for the spread of Corona by the Government and then by the media. Definitely some lapses must have occurred in organizing the seminar at that time, and a large assembly taking place during a pandemic is inexcusable to be sure. Many of the Tablighis were arrested and Courts in two of their judgments, exonerated them blaming the police of using the Tablighis as sacrificial lambs. The Tablighi event also reminded us of the massive communalization of society.

The pliant media, the large section of it, pounced upon the congregation attributing them to be planning Corona Jihad and preparing Corona bomb! To what extent the communalized media can fall was well demonstrated by this event as ordinary Muslims were prevented from entering the Housing societies, and many vegetable vendors were boycotted as being spreaders of the disease. Biases taking over the professionalism was well demonstrated in this case.

To add salt to the wounds of pandemic, we also have semi faith healers masquerading as researchers. Yoga Guru turned entrepreneur; Baba Ramdev; claimed to have found the treatment for Corona Virus and using some words from the vocabulary of scientific research he declared the success of his medicine. He also claimed it has been recognized by UN. Mercifully he withdrew his claims soon enough and saved the embarrassment. Currently medical fraternity is putting its best to develop treatment protocols for the same. One hopes the loud mouthed rally organizers desist from doing what they have done and faith programs also follow the requirements of public health programs.



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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: [email protected]

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