Even as Unlock 1 is nearing its end, the number of Covid-19 cases in the country do not seem to be abating. As total cases have crossed 4 lakhs, the authorities are facing a tough time convincing citizens to not undertake religious pilgrimages – especially the upcoming Kanwar Yatra.
The Kanwar Yatra, a two-week congregation which takes place in July every year, was slated to begin on July 6, 2020. The Delhi-Haridwar highway is taken over by devotees known as kanwariyas during this time. The kanwariyas collect holy water from the Ganges in Haridwar in Uttarakhand and carry it back home to offer it to Lord Shiva on the occasion of Shivratri which is to be held on July 19 this year.
However, the Uttar Pradesh government, in consultation with the Haryana and Uttarakhand governments has suspended the yatra in light of the pandemic and officials in Meerut and Saharanpur, the two main centers of the yatra say they will have a tough time conveying this decision to the devotees and devotees and convince them to stay at home, reported Hindustan Times.
तीनों राज्यों के मुख्यमंत्रियों ने संवाद स्थापित करते हुए कहा कि उनके राज्यों में धर्मगुरुओं तथा कांवड़ संघों ने #COVID19 संक्रमण के दृष्टिगत इस वर्ष श्रावण मास में कांवड़ यात्रा को स्थगित रखने का निर्णय लिया है।
— CM Office, GoUP (@CMOfficeUP) June 20, 2020
Meerut Zone ADG Rajeev Sabharwal told HT, “Spreading the message and convincing devotees would be a big challenge in the coming days.” The suspension of the yatra has garnered mixed reactions from citizens and authorities. Satish Kumar Singhal, the secretary of Meerut’s Kali Paltan temple which devotees flock to during the yatra, expressed his dismay over the suspension to HT. The temple’s chief, though, supported the decision and told HT, “Life is above all and devotees should understand it.”
Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat tweeted that all the Kanwar Sanghs and seers had put forth the proposal to suspend the Kanwar Yatra and that the decision was necessary to stop a large gathering of people due to the dangers of the coronavirus transmission.
आज उत्तर प्रदेश के मा. मुख्यमंत्री श्री @myogiadityanath जी व हरियाणा के मा. मुख्यमंत्री श्री @mlkhattar जी के साथ कांवड़ यात्रा के संबंध में वीडियो कांफ्रेंसिग के माध्यम से विस्तार से विचार विमर्श किया। बैठक में कोविड-19 के कारण कांवड़ यात्रा को स्थगित करने का निर्णय लिया गया। pic.twitter.com/UGkc3rqMK0
— Trivendra Singh Rawat (@tsrawatbjp) June 20, 2020
However, to honour people’s beliefs, the Uttarakhand government was mulling over a plan to deliver the holy water from the Ganga to the pilgrims with the help of trucks and tankers at their native places without having them to travel to Haridwar, The Indian Express had reported.
The decision of the suspension has been welcomed by environmentalists who have cried hoarse over devotees leaving a garbage trail through the course of the yatra, The Times of India reported. Wildlife and environment activists told TOI that the yatra was a burden on natural resources and the Rajaji tiger reserve through which the devotees took a short cut, saw an immense human-wildlife conflict during this time. Mita Naithani, a wildlife activist from Kankhal, Haridwar told TOI, “We were seriously concerned about the Kanwar Yatra as the city is very small and maintaining social distancing during the yatra would have been next to impossible. The yatra would have led to a rise in Covid-19 infections among locals and the wildlife as well. We are thankful for the state government for this wise decision.”
Another major religious pilgrimage, the Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra to be held in Odisha, Puri was also suspended by the Supreme Court, reported IE. However, after the Shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Nishchalananda Saraswati alleged that it was a “well-orchestrated plan” to stall the yatra and the Puri King and chairman of the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, Dibyasingha Deb urged Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik to intervene, the Supreme Court allowed it with ‘certain restrictions’.