Alarm in India as thousands gather for holy dip in Ganges despite soaring Covid cases

Stuti Mishra
·4-min read
<p>Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar, as Covid-19 cases continue to surge in the country </p> (Getty Images)

Naga Sadhus (Hindu holy men) take a holy dip in the waters of the Ganges River during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival, in Haridwar, as Covid-19 cases continue to surge in the country

(Getty Images)

Scenes of thousands taking part in the world’s largest religious gathering of Kumbh Mela have alarmed many on social media as India sees record daily rises of Covid-19 cases, overtaking Brazil as the second-worst affected country in the world.

Kumbh Mela is the religious gathering of Hindus which takes place every 12 years and in which tens of thousands take a dip in the Ganges river, which is believed to be an exercise of cleansing their sins and bringing salvation.

However, this year, when people expected things to be different amid the raging pandemic in the country and deadly second wave, over 2.1 million people have assembled in the city of Haridwar at the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand -- without masks or social distancing -- and have taken a dip in the Ganges by Monday noon, according to Indian media reports.

On the other hand, India’s Covid-19 situation is getting worse, with the country consistently reporting more than 100,000 cases daily in the past few weeks. On Monday, India reported 168,000 new cases, overtaking Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of cases globally.

As a restriction during the festival, the government made a negative Covid-19 report mandatory for the devotees entering the premises, however, that didn’t stop the crowd from assembling.

The fear of Kumbh Mela turning into a super spreader was expressed by many.

Photos and videos of a large number of people assembled at the banks of the river are doing rounds on social media with several people hitting out at the Hindu nationalist Modi government for allowing the gathering.

“The BJP Govt has betrayed the faith of people as it has failed to organise Kumbh as per Covid protocols and now the life of millions of Hindu devotees is in danger,” Gaurav Pandhi, associated with India’s opposition party the Indian National Congress wrote. “The Govt is to be held responsible for any crisis that may arise due to this criminal negligence. How could they?”

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Kumbh Mela is not the first mass public [religious] gathering in the last six months. There have been many,” wrote writer and poet, Hussain Haidry. “ It’s just that now the cases are at a high and the vaccines are short, so there’s a semblance of a ruckus in the air.”

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“All the folks, including politicians & news channels, that went berserk over Tablighi Jamaat even deeming it "Corona jihad" last year at the beginning of the pandemic seem to have suddenly lost their voice over Kumbh,” Journalist Anusha Ravi Sood wrote, pointing to the hounding of members of a Muslim religious groups last year. “Hypocrisy got your throat? Shameless bigots. This is criminal”

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“India is going through a massive tragedy. People are celebrating Kumbh mela that will further worsen the situation,” wrote Sushant Sinha, PhD student at University of Michigan. “ECI is holding 8 phase election in West Bengal and Prime Minister is having 3 rallies today. CBSE wants exams as per the schedule. Not sure where will we end up!”

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386 people have tested positive in the last 24 hours in Haridwar. The leader of the the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, one of the organizations of Hindu Sants and sadhus taking part in the Kumbh, tested positive of coronavirus.

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