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Indians Are Still Gathering in Large Numbers Even While Most of the World is in Coronavirus Lockdown

While not everyone has the privilege of social distancing, the least we can do is stop assembling in masses.
19 March 2020, 8:21am
Indians Are Still Gathering in Large Numbers Even While Most of the World is in Lockdown
Hindu devotees wear facemasks amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus as they pray at a Hanuman Temple in Ahmedabad on March 17, 2020. Photo by Sam Panthaky / AFP

We already know that the novel coronavirus currently sweeping through the world is highly contagious and spreads from person-to-person real quick. But even as most of the world seems to have got the memo, many Indians just aren’t taking this seriously enough.

While the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India currently stands at 172, many have called out the country for not testing enough, with one expert even suggesting that 10,000 people have already been infected and are going about undetected. This means that we should all just stay the fuck at home if we have any hope of containing the global pandemic.

While it’s understandable that many sections of Indian society don’t have the luxury to work from home and distance themselves socially, the least we can do is stop gathering in large numbers, something that could plummet us into the next phase of community transmission.

Most states have instituted a partial lockdown and shut down schools, gyms, public pools, theatres, malls—while some have even shuttered pubs and restaurants. Even iconic temples like the Shirdi Sai Mandir and the Balaji temple in Tirupati that typically host crowds of millions have decided to close their doors in view of the situation. Yet, in Uttar Pradesh, lakhs of pilgrims are planning to gather for the Ayodhya Ram Navami Mela from March 25 to April 2. And despite the Uttar Pradesh government banning mass gatherings, people just don’t seem to care and claim that “this Ram Navami will be different” as it is the first one since the Supreme Court controversially allowed for the contested plot of the Babri Masjid to be made a Ram Mandir. Even as Ayodhya’s chief medical officer has flagged concerns about not having enough “infrastructure to screen and hand out masks to 5 lakh people”, the believers are going forward with a mass ceremony because they believe this is an auspicious occasion and that religion shouldn’t be defied.

Meanwhile, others seem to think that the agni (auspicious fire) of an Indian wedding is enough to protect them and their attendees from catching the deadly virus, with sometimes, even the very politicians encouraging people to stay at home attending or hosting these ceremonies.

While some Indians are defying social distancing in the name of religion or tradition, some others believe that the threat of coronavirus isn’t as threatening as the one of the controversial Citizenship Amendment (CAA) law, and have thus decided to go forward with large protests. Around 5,000 anti-CAA protestors gathered at Chennai’s Marina beach to oppose the law that has been criticised for excluding Muslims—protests for which have been taking place around India since December 2019. The protesters went ahead with this despite the state government reportedly suppressing numbers to contain panic, and being sketchy about releasing details of the people that came in contact with the confirmed cases. Similarly, the women staging a peaceful sit-in at Shaheen Bagh are also continuing the protest that they have upheld for almost 100 days. Notably, they have been careful about implementing measures like handing out sanitisers, keeping enough distance between protesters, giving face masks or discouraging older people or those showing symptoms from showing up. However, it’s still advisable to avoid such mass gatherings and it should be a priority of the government to assure the protestors that no action over the CAA will take place as the country grapples with the global health crisis. Another course of action that can be taken is shifting the opposition online with a digital strike, as suggested by climate change activist Greta Thunberg.

However, the current situation isn’t only about the government or citizens not taking things seriously. It also points to a larger problem of a lack of trust between the citizens and their government. Many are accusing the Indian government of using the threat of coronavirus to play a dirty game of politics, sneak in surveillance, cancel elections, and turn any sign of panic into a PR stunt. The bottom line is, it’s not just high time that everyone remains indoors, but also one in which our government needs to step up their efforts—in terms of testing as well as earning back their citizen’s trust.

Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.