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  • Raghav Sand

Festivals in 2020: Constraint and Restraint

Since the first week of March 2020, life has been confined mostly indoors and unnecessary mobility is aptly discouraged. Through various stages of unlock guidelines, gradual relaxations have been introduced to kickstart economic activity. With standard operating procedures in place, industrial, commercial and travel activities began to ease the strain on livelihood. The festival of colours, Holi, became the first of many festivals that had to be scaled back drastically in comparison to past years. We are approaching the last lap of festivals for the calendar year and showing restraint is the need of the hour. This is a time when we should be more vigilant than ever before, so that all the hardship and discipline shown in past months does not go in vain.

Lessons from Kerala and Onam Festivities

Onam is an annual holiday and festival celebrated in southern Indian state of Kerala. It is a harvest festival celebrated by Malayalis. According to legends, the festival is celebrated to commemorate King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam. This year it was observed between 22nd August and 2nd September. Even after various central and state government advisories, people flouted all social distancing norms. It is evident from the chart given below that new Covid-19 cases showed an uptick during and after the festival of Onam. This trajectory may be replicated in West Bengal and other eastern states if people do not curb enthusiasm.

Kerala: Total Cases (left) and spurt in daily new cases (right) since mid- August

Durga Puja festivities may bring a deluge of Covid-19 cases

Doctors in West Bengal have written an open letter once again warning the State government and political parties of the danger of COVID-19 spreading exponentially if proper precautions are not taken to control the festivities during Durga Puja. The open letter addressed to the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary apprising them of the imminent catastrophe appeared to have gone unnoticed. “We had at first written to the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary and then to all political parties warning them that if the celebrations during the Durga Puja are not controlled, then post-Pujas there may be a tremendous rise in Coronavirus cases and deaths. But we have not seen any reaction from their end,” stated the open letter.

Directives of Hon’ble High Court of Calcutta

In a significant verdict, the Calcutta High Court (HC) ruled that the State government’s grant of ₹50,000 to each of the community pujas in the State will have to be used for effectively combating the spread of coronavirus. Hearing a petition challenging the State government’s grant, a Division Bench of the High Court ruled that the puja committees will have to spend 75 per cent of the grant on providing face masks, hand sanitisers and other protective gear to visitors to the puja pandals, and 25 per cent on community policing.

After hearing review petition filed by the joint forum of Puja committees, the HC opined that, “list of persons allowed should be fixed on daily basis”. These lists will be put outside the pandals every day at 8 am. While the larger pandals – which have an area of more than 300 sq metre – can list up to 60 organisers, not more than 45 can be allowed at a time, the court said. The smaller pandals can list up to 15 organisers. No specific instructions were given by court for ritual worship and Sindoor Khela on Vijaya Dashami. West Bengal government has added 2000 Covid-19 beds to handle new cases expected from lapses during the festival period.

West Bengal has a high recovery rate, but daily new cases have risen sharply since August and have not shown signs of slowing down anytime soon

Winter is Coming

By end of October, temperature in north India starts to get close to its annual lower band. This is also the time for Diwali, a major festival throughout the country. The festival of lights is celebrated with unique enthusiasm and incomparable scale in northern parts of India. Frequent visits to the market and social gatherings should be scaled down if community spread of the virus is to be kept under control.

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