Millennium Post

A matter of faith

In the wake of COVID-19 outbreak, places of worship must be temporarily shut down immediately to prevent spread of the virus

We are living in strange times when works of fiction are now coming true right in front of our eyes. It has taken the onslaught of a deadly virus to dramatically change our lives, introducing ways of living and working as novel as the disease itself. COVID-19 has forced us to re-assess our social interactions, rely heavily on technology, and unlearn years of practices and social mores.

While the world grapples with its response to Coronavirus, India struggles with a new set of challenges every day. Self-isolation comes tough to a country where a majority of its population must venture out every day to eke out a living. Social distancing is equally difficult as we inhabit heavily congested cities where even on a daily basis we jostle for space. Indians as a whole find the concept of 'space' alien. I have written about this earlier here but now's a good time to reiterate that we often tumble into other's spaces whether in public transport or simply while standing in queues!

Now adding to this conundrum of new learnings, is how we fashion our religious practices. Saudi Arabia has banned prayers at holy mosques including Mecca and Medina. The Vatican and all the holy churches in Rome are also closed. On Thursday, Catholics around the world joined Pope Francis to pray for an end to Coronavirus. They did it from the confines of their own homes.

But here in India, susceptible to be the next hot spot of the virus, most religious places have not closed down save a few. Tirupati Balaji temple has shut down, so has ISKON Delhi while Archbishop of Delhi has called off prayers till the end of the month, Jama Masjid will be asking people to stay away. But a majority of religious places in India continue to welcome visitors. Devotees at the Golden Temple will go through screening but there is no talk of barring them. Huge crowds gathered at Varanasi's Sankatmochan Temple. Visitor restrictions have been imposed in Kalighat, Dakshineswar, and Belur Math but praying there will not be curbed. The likely congregation of thousands at Ayodhya between March 25 and April 2 on the occasion of Ram Navami in spite of the Uttar Pradesh government's advisory is yet another instance of people likely to flout self-isolation.

The believers say that they cannot be infected in places of worship; after all, wouldn't the god of their choice be protecting them? But God helps those who help themselves. And for now, God wants us to stay away from religious sites and each other. Pray from home for God is in our hearts. But since this doesn't seem to find mass followers among the Indian populace, religious committees and state governments must temporarily close down places of worship for the next few weeks.

And then of course comes the bizarre claims of Ashwagandha to 'gaumutra' (cow urine) to fight Coronavirus. These must be urgently debunked in a country, which may fall prey to complacence and worse, a false belief of being able to fight the virus. It is comforting to believe in God or a higher power in these trying times because it is only faith that can give us the resilience and courage to tide over these unknown, uncertain days. But while faith offers us the crutch, we will also do well to remember that ultimately, it is science that is helping treat COVID-19. And eventually, it will be science that will come up with the vaccine.

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal

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