Festivals in times of COVID-19

Veroli Zhimo

As festive season beckons, faith and safety must tread together 

The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a shadow on the onset of the festive season in India, starting with Durga Puja festivities. 

Reports of puja organisers in cities across the country deciding to suspend large-scale public celebrations have been emerging over the past week.

In Nagaland too, the celebrations will be muted as several organisers have reportedly been taking a range of measures, as per the State Government’s General Guidelines for Durga Puja 2020.

As per the guidelines issued by the Home Department, puja pandals will be allowed to be set up only in temples (mandirs) and no temporary pandals shall be allowed to be erected on and by the side of any street. The timing for the visit of the devotees to the pandals shall strictly be from 5:00 am till 10:00 pm.

Meanwhile, melas/food stalls/stalls selling any items etc in and around puja pandals have been prohibited.

The guidelines said that a maximum of 30 people including organisers and priests shall be allowed to gather at any time in puja pandals and the puja organisers should not allow any person to enter the puja premises without face cover or mask.

Puja organisers have been asked to arrange for facilities for handwashing or sanitisation at the entrance of puja premises, subject all visitors to thermal scanning and sanitise the premises before opening and after closing and every six-hours during the day. 

People above 65 years of age, children below 10 years of age and persons with comorbidities and pregnant women may be advised to avoid visiting the puja pandals, according to the guidelines.

While there may be some difficulties in following the guidelines, citizens must understand that this is a pandemic year, and wearing masks, ensuring distance and washing hands are the only ways to prevent the spread of the disease.

A popular pandal in Dimapur easily attracts thousands of visitors each night. In fact, in its order, the Home Department has tasked the District Task Force headed by the Deputy Commissioner to make necessary arrangements with the concerned puja committees to ensure that immersion of the idols is suitably staggered so as to avoid congestion and large gatherings at the immersion sites.

However, truth be told, it is inconceivable that the Task Force will have enough personnel to fully monitor the pujas or to meaningfully control the massive crowds, in addition to its other duties.

So the onus falls squarely on organisers and the public to behave responsibly.

In his seventh address to the nation since the onset of the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also cautioned the public against letting guard down during the upcoming festive season.

"We must keep in mind that the lockdown is over but the coronavirus is still there," the Prime Minister said on October 20.

Nagaland is at the crossroads in its battle against the pandemic. If caution is not exercised and safety protocols are not followed, as the experience in other parts of the country like Kerala during Onam celebrations have shown, the numbers could shoot up again.

Additionally, with the wedding season and Christmas celebrations arriving soon, there will also be an increase in footfall in the markets and occasional gatherings of sorts.

The festival season has a large socio-economic footprint; but maybe, God would understand if this year, we choose to express faith privately.

Feedback and comments can be send to vzhimolimi@gmail.com  


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