The Kumbh Mela has been underway since the 1st of April in Haridwar, Uttarakhand. Visuals of the Mela have begun attracting criticism from people online. Some with malicious intentions have drawn comparisons between the Kumbh Mela and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Markaz Nizamuddin last year.
There are fundamental differences between the two incidents despite the desperation in certain circles to draw false equivalences in order to maintain the ‘secular fabric’ of the country. It is also being suggested that the congregation is in violation of Covid-19 rules, again a clear case of misinformation.
The Uttarakhand Government has permitted the Kumbh Mela to proceed with strict rules and regulations. There are rules in place to ensure the safety of citizens. A Covid-19 negative RT-PCR report, not more than 72 hours prior to arrival, has been mandatory for attending the festival. As a consequence, the crowd this year is much lower than previous years.
In addition, all entry-points to Uttarakhand have Covid-19 testing points. At Haridwar Railway Station, passengers either have to produce a negative RT-PCR test or go through the same by the health department. Sanitizer dispensers have been set up at Har ki Paudi and special Covid-19 isolation centers have been set up as well.
Masks and social distancing are also being enforced to the extent that it is possible. Therefore, clearly, rules have been enforced in order to mitigate the possible spread of the novel Coronavirus. Contrast all such precautions with the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Markaz Nizamuddin last year.
It was still the early days of the pandemic and the virus was not widespread as it is now. Thousands were confined within a single structure in extremely confined places without any adequate arrangement for Covid restrictions.
To make matters worse, attempts were made to hide the extent of infection and attendees of the Markaz Nizamuddin carried the virus far and wide across the lengths and breadths of the country with them. When authorities pleaded them to come forward on their own, they refused to do so.
When authorities managed to track them down, in some instances, there was violence because the Jamaatis were not willing to subject themselves to isolation voluntarily. Even among those who were transferred to hospitals and isolation units, there were many who engaged in deplorable conduct that included sexual harassment and spitting on purpose on doctors and nurses.
All of this contributed to the negative coverage the Tablighi Jamaat received. If the matter was restricted to infection at Markaz Nizamuddin alone, then most people would have been sympathetic to them. However, the matter immediately escalated into uncooperative conduct, sexual harassment of medical stuff, defecating in inappropriate places and deliberate attempts to flout law and order. It was such horrifying behaviour that led to the negative coverage.
For instance, there were the occasions in Delhi when Jamaatis spat on healthcare workers. In Uttar Pradesh, those lodged at the Ghaziabad Hospital made lewd remarks, roamed around the hospital naked and made obscene gestures at the female healthcare staff. In Kanpur, some of them again misbehaved with the hospital staff. Some at another location even demanded that they be served beef. These are only a few specific incidents but the list is endless.
Such behaviour is entirely absent at the Kumbh Mela. There are devotees participating in auspicious events observing due religious norms. For people to even attempt to draw an equivalence between the event and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation reeks of desperation and the fervent desire to sweep the atrocious conduct of the Jamaatis under the rug.
Furthermore, there is evidence to indicate that transmission of the virus is comparatively much lower in fully open spaces than indoors. Needless to say, the crowds at the Kumbh Mela are outdoors while the Markaz Nizamuddin congregation was held indoors.
In light of all this information, the attempts to draw false equivalence between the two falls flat.