Lucknow: The virtual lockdown for containing the COVID-19 pandemic is set to have a dampening effect on the upcoming Ram Navami festivities in Uttar Pradesh. The nine-day long Navratri celebrations, celebrated among the Hindus, witness large gatherings and snanas (public bathing in holy waters), which are highly risky amid the increasing threat of COVID-19 in India.
In most of the districts, the authorities have ordered for the postponing of any related celebrations in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19, while Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also requested people to maintain social distancing and avoid visiting religious places. The press note released by the Chief Minister’s Office read, “I appeal all to adopt social distancing and beat the coronavirus from spreading. People should not gather at religious or public places in huge numbers. I request all religious leaders to spread awareness in society about controlling the virus.”
As a further measure to control the spread, the Ram Navami celebrations have also been cancelled, news 18 said . However, so far there have been no reports of cancelling the Ram Navami mela, which is scheduled to start from March 25. The fair in Ayodhya has been dubbed especially important this year due to the foundation laying ceremony of the grand Ram temple after the case of the title suit was solved last year in November. More than 30 lakh people are expected to visit the temple city of Ayodhya as part of the festivities.
A highly placed source in Ayodhya district administration had told NewsClick that the administration did not receive any formal ‘written’ order from Lucknow, for cancelling the fair till yesterday. “Ayodhya is a special district and the chief minister himself looks after it so the decision has to come from Lucknow. The district administration is prepared to tackle every kind of situation but the decision for organising or cancelling the fair is to be taken from higher ups and we cannot do anything about it,” the source added.
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing the nation yesterday on March 19 on COVID-19, did not talk about avoiding gatherings during the Navaratri period, a critical miss while increased awareness is the need of the hour. Not only the PM’s speech, the delay in cancelling the upcoming Ram Navami mela shows a serious slack in the BJP-led governments, both at the Centre and state, in dealing with this threat.
The state with the highest population in the country has so far seen 19 positive cases of COVID-19. The Health Department has set up isolation wards at 24 medical colleges in the state and has also established eight testing labs, and isolation wards at 383 private medical colleges.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) Ayodhya coordinator Sharad Shama told NewsClick over phone that the body is planning to hold the religious festivals at a household level instead of going for a mass scale event. “The programmes have been scheduled from the beginning of Navratra and will continue till Hanuman Jayanti which is on April 8,” he said, adding, “Sangathan sarkaar ke aadesho ka paalan karega aur is disha me hame jo bhi nirdesh prapt hoga ham uska palan karenge (The organisation will obey the orders of the government and we will obey whatever our organisation tells us).
According to official numbers, more than 54 crore people visited Ayodhya in 2019 and the district administration believes that the number of people visiting the city may double up due to the court's decision.
Meanwhile, in Meerut, the decades old Nauchandi Mela aka Navchandi Mela, an annual fair that takes place on the second Sunday after Holi is also set to be cancelled due to the corona effect as no official inauguration could be done by local administration.
According to Meerut city expert Kamal Bhargava, it has been tradition for many years that the month-long fair begins with an official inauguration. However, following the directives of the Uttar Pradesh Government, the administration has decided to postpone the fair tentatively till May 2020. A meeting of the Mela Authority was held in Patel Mandap Hall in Nauchandi Grounds where this was unanimously decided.
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“Since corona spreads fast and wide therefore it has been decided to continue with the age old tradition of first doing the official inauguration on March 22 and later on followed by a full fair from May 15 till June 15. The mela has been organised since 1672 so the tradition should continue” said Shahid Abbasi, member of the organising committee. Ranjan Sharma, another member of committee said, “Age-old tradition cannot be washed out just because of coronavirus and this should continue anyhow.”
Nagar Ayukt Dr. Arvind Chaurasia said, “The future of the fair depends upon the fair which is being held in Bulandshahr. In case a fair fails to take off then it would be difficult to get the shopkeepers for Meerut’s fair.”
On the other hand, Assistant Chief Medical Officer Dr. S. K. Sharma is of the opinion that corona is a pandemic right now. Holding a fair like Nauchandi Mela is not a safe bet. “Both the central as well as state government is very serious about coronavirus. Government wants to conquer this deadly disease at any cost and in such a case gathering of people at one place is not recommended. My suggestion is that this year's fair should be avoided.”
Fairs in other parts of the state have also been called off due to COVID-19.