No public gatherings and loudspeakers for religious events: Guj Gov’t

Does the Gujarat government want to say that social distancing, as well as other measures have been failing in the state for the past month? Or is its order on Monday stating that strict implementation of Disaster Management Act invoked to deal with the Covid19 pandemic a reminder for the Muslim community?


The Prime Minister may have wished the nation as Ramadan began, and again spoke to the Muslims of India in his latest Mann Ki Baat, and also ‘assured’ the world that everyone in India was united in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Gujarat government may have missed seeing the PM’s messages. Once again, they have decided to announce that no public gatherings or loudspeakers will be allowed in the state for religious events.

Why was this needed now, one may ask, when the nation has been under lockdown for over a month, and all religious and public gatherings have been already banned? According to Express news service, the order, issued by the state’s Home Department, says that it has been issued for the strict implementation of lockdown during all upcoming religious festivals because “to control the impact of Covid-19, social distancing is very necessary”.

Does the Gujarat government want to say that social distancing, as well as other measures have been failing in the state for the past month? Or is its order on Monday stating that strict implementation of Disaster Management Act invoked to deal with the Covid19 pandemic a reminder for the Muslim community as the month of Ramzaan has begun and under normal circumstances the markets are all abuzz in the evenings. Muslim clerics and scholars across the country have already asked people to stay home and pray, and no congregations are being allowed. Recent  celebrations including various harvest festivals, Easter, lunar new years have all been in private homes, and this fresh order of an Act that is already in place across the nation could be seen as an unusual overreach. Much like the attempt by two Delhi Police officials who personally went to tell a muezzin in a Muslim neighbourhood that he could not broadcast the Azaan or the call to prayer. The Delhi cops had claimed that it was the Lt Governor who had ordered a ban on Azaan itself. That of course turned out to be an over reach and Delhi Lt Governor Anil Baijal, had to post a clarification on social media.

Of course the Gujarat govt order does prohibit any public gathering for all religious activities including  as puja or bandgi and has banned the use of loudspeakers. Azaan is usually broadcast  over loudspeakers, especially during Ramadan so that the devout can break their fast when they hear the call to prayer in the evening. The timing varies slightly each day. 

According to the news report while religious activities can continue privately or individually, the order stated that people cannot assemble for “any reason, including having food or snacks, after performing a religious activity privately or individually.” 

Under normal circumstances Ramadan is also the time to socialise and share iftaar, or the first meal after breaking the fast with family, friends, and neighbours. Markets and food stalls are usually a must visit for both mUslims and non muslims during the festive evenings. The Ramzan month culminates in Eid, which like any other festival is usually one of community celebrations. However, this year, the call has already been given to keep Eid celebrations simple and private and within family homes. It is not yet known if the national lockdown will be lifted by the time the Eid moon is sighted.

Gujarat government, however, has perhaps repeated its appeal “to the religious and community leaders to create awareness and ensure that people do not assemble for religious activities. “Violation of any prohibitory order issued by the Central government under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, will be subject to penal action under the legislation,” said the order as reported by ENS.

Meanwhile a report in the Deccan Chronicle, showcases how the head priests of Kedarnath, Badrinath “brave lockdown to keep traditions alive”. According to the DC report, the doors of Kedarnath will open on April 29,  and Badrinath will open on May 15. The two are one of the most holy, and most remote pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand. 

The DC tells the story of the Rawal or head priest of the Himalayan shrine of Kedarnath, Bheema Shanker Ling who hails from Nanded, and  the head priest of Badrinath dham, Ishwar Prasad Namboodiri of Kerala, who due to the ban on all flights under Covid-19 lockdown, have had to travel by road to reach the shrines and perform their duties. The two are said to have travelled 1,800 km and 2,800 km by road “to ensure that traditions are kept alive” even though the tradition of the holy Char Dham yatra stands suspended during the lockdown. “Though the yatra is suspended, the portals of Kedarnath will open as scheduled at 6.10 am on April 29. After taking necessary permissions, I started from Nanded in a car on April 17 and reached Ukhimath on April 19,” Shanker Ling is quoted by Deccan Chronicle. According to the report the priest had been quarantined and tested for coronavirus, as soon as he arrived in Uttarakhand. “I have tested negative but I’m still in quarantine,” he told DC and added that the Uttarakhand government has allowed “16 people which includes priests and cooks, who will stay in Kedarnath until it closes by October end or first week of November, to travel.”

“Being in quarantine, I might not go and will authorise another priest. I will make it to Kedarnath immediately after the quarantine period comes to an end on May 2,” said Shanker Ling, who originally belongs to Karnataka. He has been the head priest for 20 years. His only regret is that every year, the doli or procession is taken by road till Kedarnath and thousands of people turn up to witness the occasion. This year, it is being taken in a vehicle to avoid crowds, reports DC. 

It is not clear if the Uttarakhand government has made fresh public announcements reminding people that gathering and crowds are prohibited in the state even though the two shrines will open their doors.

Similar is the case with Ishwar Prasad Namboodri. “After his arrival in Rishikesh on April 21, he has been in quarantine. The portals of Badrinath will open on May 15 and he will reach there by then. He too has tested negative,” said Mohan Prasad Thapliyal, former president of the Badrinath-Kedarnath Temple committee. He informed that since the head priests for the remaining two dhams — Gangotri and Yamunotri — are locals and there was no problem on that front.

According to the DC report, in  2019, a record 11 lakh people visited the shrines. This will be the first time that ‘yatra’ has been suspended due to the pandemic and it is believed that the footfall this year could be the lowest ever stated in the new report. It is yet to be seen if the lockdown is lifted and what kind of action plan is put in place by the government during the yatra period.

The lockdown has brought the country to a standstill, but divine intervention has made it easy for some to find a way out. Many incidents have been reported from across the country in April alone. Some of them can be read here.  


Muslim religious leaders urge people to pray at home during Ramzan
Muslims will follow all lockdown protocol during Ramzan: Mufti of Varanasi
How did two Delhi policemen decide to ban Azaan on their own



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