Last week, as India tackled the catastrophic second wave of the coronavirus, millions of followers came down on the banks of the Ganges in the northern city of Haridwar and were submerged.
Hindus believe that the river is holy, and soaking in the river will cleanse their sins and bring salvation.
However, the Uttarakhand government, where Haridwar is located, faces intense criticism for allowing the Kumbh Mela Festival to proceed in a rapidly deteriorating situation in Covid. On Thursday, India reported more than 200,000 Covid cases for the first time since the pandemic began.
An influential Hindu congregation has decided to opt out of a large festival. “Kumbh Mela is over for us,” said Lavindra Puri, Niranjani Akada or congregation clerk. Quoted as saying in the local media..
This decision was made the day after Swami Kapil Dev, the head of another prominent congregation. Died after being diagnosed with Covid-19..
It is unknown how many followers have been positive in Kumbh Mela since the first day of bathing on March 11. However, Dr. SK Jha, Haridwar’s Chief Medical Officer, said more than 1,600 cases were confirmed among believers between April 10 and 14.
However, the numbers could be even higher, and there are concerns that many returning people may have been ill nationwide.
To date, India has confirmed more than 14 million cases and 174,000 viral deaths. The number of cases decreased sharply in January and February, but the number of cases and deaths increased again. Hospitals across the country report shortages of beds, oxygen cylinders and medicines..
The increase in incidents did not discourage people from joining Kumbh Mela. Ujwal Puri, a 34-year-old businessman, arrived in Haridwar on March 9 with a bottle of disinfectant, mask and vitamins.
Puri expected a strict Covid security check. But he told the BBC that he wasn’t facing checks at the airport or in Haridwar. One of his photos at the festival shows a crowd of banks waiting for a swim in one of the nights. You can see that many people do not wear a mask or pull the mask down to their chin.
“There was no social distance,” Puri said. “People sat cheek-to-cheek for holy prayer in the evening.”
He stayed at the festival for three days and took off his mask in public “only once to take a selfie with a spectator,” he said. “I left everything to God,” he said.
When he returned to Mumbai, he said he locked himself in the room and had him test himself. “I live with my parents, so I paid as much attention as I could.”
However, not everyone has taken these measures. There was a warning that Kumbh Mela might have acted as a superspreader event.
“Khumbu should have been postponed,” said historian Gopal Baldwaji. “Kumba intends to provide peace to the inner self. If your loved one is infected with Covid, how can you find inner peace?”
Others did not agree. “Isn’t the election rally a superspreading event? Why is the liquor store open? Isn’t it spreading the coronavirus?” Said Saint Ragavendra Das in Kumbh Mela, Haridwar.
It provides little relief to the people of Haridwar and fears that the influx of pilgrims puts them at risk of being infected with the virus.
“These pilgrims go home in a day or two, but no one knows what they left behind,” said Missilesh Sinha, a resident of Khalidwar.
Fearing an increased risk of Covid, another resident, Sakudanand Doubler, petitioned the court last year to find out how the state was prepared for the Covid surge. Dabral has allowed Uttarakhand Prime Minister Tirath Singh Rawat to enter an unchecked state, blaming the increase in the case. The BBC was unable to ask Mr Rawat for comment.
Dabral’s lawyer, Shiv Bhatt, was part of an official committee appointed by a court that visited Haridwar in March to consider the preparations for Kumbh Mela. Mr. Bert said hospitals, including the designated Covid Care Center, lacked basic equipment.
“The washroom and ward weren’t working well. There were no bed pans and trash cans. The elevator wasn’t working,” he said.
However, Jha said all issues raised in the Commission’s report have since been fixed. And believers continue to flood nearby banks, often maskless, even when authorities are struggling to enforce Covid’s safety rules at festivals.
Mumbai-based painter Sandeep Shinde said he enjoyed Kumbh Mela earlier this month. Housed in a large hall shared by about 10 followers, Cinde slept on a floor mattress.
“It was great to come here and experience people having a holy time. I couldn’t hear anyone talking about the corona. Nobody was talking about the virus.” He said.