At a time when India is banning large gathering to take precautions against the coronavirus pandemic, the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has decided to go ahead with the celebrations of Ram Navami – a Hindu festival which celebrates the birth of Ram. The gathering is expecting a footfall of over a lakh people in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Ram.
Not just the Ram Navami Mela, Ayodhya is also gearing up for VHP’s mega “Ram Mahotsav”celebrations at the end of this month. These are the first events planned in Ayodhya, since the Supreme Court verdict on the Babri Masjid land dispute in November 2019.
The events are taking place, despite the Ayodhya chief medical officer Dr. Ghanshyam Singh raising concerns about the health risk posed by a large gathering of at least 10 lakh devotees.
District Magistrate Anuj Kumar Jha said that the Uttar Pradesh government has notified the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the district administration is being empowered to take all steps to stop coronavirus. However, he clarified that the Ram Navami mela from 25 March to 2 April will continue as scheduled.
Speaking to The Quint, Dr Ghanshyam Singh said it won’t be possible to screen everyone at such a large gathering. But he stated that an order with the Uttar Pradesh Medical Supplies Corporation for 25 thermal monitors, 50,000 masks and 4,000 litres of hand sanitisers has been placed.
Singh said the administration has been urging people to not come for the Ram Navami Mela, but if the event is happening, then it will be difficult to stop devotees from coming.
As the festival continues as per schedule, it cannot be ascertained if the communication and awareness on COVID-19, is reaching a large mass of people who are planning to visit Ayodhya.
District Magistrate Arun Kumar Jha also said that the administration has printed 50,000 posters highlighting precautions against coronavirus and these are being pasted at public places.
Dr Vikasendu Agrawal, nodal officer of coronavirus, told PTI that mass gatherings are impossible and risky once the Epidemic Act is invoked. He said he will talk to senior state government officials.
“We have closed down shopping malls, cinema halls, swimming pools, gyms and schools in the state. It is very difficult to ensure that devotees wear masks or maintain distance of 1.5 m from each other. It’s an impossible proposition.”Dr Vikasendu Agrawal, Nodal Officer of Coronavirus
“We will review the situation on 22 March and if the situation remains the same then, I would would suggest the government to avoid the gathering,” he added.
Reacting to these suggestions, Ayodhya MLA Ved Gupta said, “We can't stop the devotees. They would be advised to wear masks and maintain a distance while conducting rituals.”
VHP’s Ram Mahotsav Celebrations Scaled Down
VHP’s “Ram Mahotsav”, a fortnight-long programme that will happen across nearly three lakh villages from 25 March to 8 April, has been “scaled down” in view of the health emergency, said Vinod Bansal, VHP’s national spokesperson.
“This time we had massive plans for the Ram Mahotsav since we couldn’t celebrate the Supreme Court verdict to maintain law and order. Initially, we had planned rath yatras and shobha yatras, meetings and gatherings across 2.85 lakh places in India, from where the shilas for the temple had arrived in Ayodhya in 1989. But now we have cancelled the yatras and will hold the meetings across villages in consultation with the local adminsitration keeping in mind the health concerns,” Bansal said.
Shilas are bricks with “Shri Ram” inscribed on them brought to Ayodhya by devotees from across India for the construction of Ram temple.
Bansal added that to mark the event, the VHP has asked Hindu families in Ayodhya and across the country to hoist saffron flags on their roofs, paste stickers of the Ram temple model on the doors and chant “Shri Ram Jai Ram” 13 times.
(With PTI inputs)