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Monday, July 22, 2024

Odisha uses pandemic as excuse to place severe restrictions on Hindu festivals

Odisha government has issued guidelines placing severe restrictions on celebration of upcoming Hindu festivals. The preposterous restrictions have been announced by the Odisha state government citing the Covid pandemic as an excuse even though infections in the state have been coming down steadily.

At present, Odisha record less than 1 per cent active ratio and about 1.8 per cent test positivity ratio. The directive issued by the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government would be in place till 21 November. Orders have been issued to celebrate the Hindu festivals of Durga Puja, Ganesh Puja and other festivities in a muted manner without the presence of devotees.

This comes in the wake of guidelines issued by Union Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan asked states to consider imposing local restrictions to curb mass gatherings, Bhushan’s letter says “In light of this order, and given upcoming festivals such as Muharram (August 19), Onam (August 21), Janmashtami (August 30), Ganesh Chaturthi (September 10), Durga Puja (October 5-15), where large public gatherings are expected, it is advised that states may actively consider the imposition of local restrictions in public observation of these festivals and curb mass gatherings”.

The order issued by the Odisha government’s Special Relief Commissioner (SRC), which is one of the strictest restrictions in the country, says “It is directed that congregations for the celebration of Ganesh Puja, Durga Puja, Laxmi Puja, Kali Puja, and other similar festivals shall not be allowed in public throughout the state. However, religious rituals in churches/ temples/ mosques/ places of worship will continue as usual with a limited number of persons with strict adherence to Covid protocols”.

Further, organizers would need permission from the District Magistrate (DM) or officer authorized by the DM to conduct puja. A maximum of 7 persons including priests, organizers, and support staff can be present at the pandal as per the guidelines. The persons present at puja pandal/ mandap shall follow all Covid protocols of social distancing, mask usage, personal hygiene, and sanitation issued by central or state government/ local administration in letter and spirit.

Detailing the restrictions imposed by the Odisha state government, OpIndia says:

This is perhaps the first time that the size of the idol that each pandal/mandap will have is also being regulated by the Odisha government. One of the preposterous guidelines issued by the government says the idol size could not be greater than 4 feet. It ordained puja pandals/mandaps be covered on three sides and the 4th side is covered in such a way as to not allow any public view of the idols. The guidelines also include that there would be no darshan for public devotees.

The guidelines also included an additional provision that mandated organizers and persons involved in conducting the puja to abide by other restrictions imposed by local administration or appropriate authority.

Furthermore, there shall be no immersion procession this year around. The idols will be immersed in artificial ponds created by the local administration for this purpose. In addition to this, the guidelines also call for the banning of all religious procession of any kind by any religious community. It is also extended to Muharram celebrations in the state. Neither will there be any feast associated with any puja/festival during the said period of restrictions, the guidelines said.

These restrictions are being brought in by the Odisha government even as the caseload has been falling and vaccinations are on the rise. The guidelines amount to a violation of one’s fundamental rights to profess one’s religion as guaranteed by the constitution. The state is unduly interfering in religious practices using controlling the Covid outbreak as an excuse.

Furthermore, these restrictions would place undue stress on the economy that has been suffering due to the pandemic. The need of the hour is to exercise caution and putting reasonable restrictions in place while striving to restore normalcy at the same time.

(Featured Image Source: OpIndia)

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