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Pandemic, Policing And Processions

Ultimately, it is our humanity that is crucial for survival – more than any religion. Every government, in the Centre or in the State should push through reforms – to ban religious processions for the next one to two years and encourage virtual puja.

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Thanks to this COVID-19 forced lock-down, festivals of all religions – Ram Navami, Mahavir Jayanti, Diwali, Holi, Id, Easter, Christmas and Baisakhi have taken place imperceptibly. There have been no hints of communal discord that often accompany fervent religious celebrations. One key reason for this general harmony has been the absence of outdoor religious processions. The Supreme Court’s thumbs-down to Kanwar-Yatra and the observation that the right to health and life must prevail over the right to religion should be seen in a broader, post-covid perspective. In fact, this enlightened pronouncement affords governments the handle to promote scientific temperament and to discourage religious processions. 

In the history of communal tension in India, religious processions have always been trigger points. The Ministry of Home Affairs too has acknowledged this fact in its 2008 guidelines for communal harmony that were endorsed to all Chief Secretaries. It is a fact that in communally sensitive areas, unsocial miscreants await a procession to foment trouble so that they can exploit the ensuing mayhem to their advantage. A stone thrown at a place of religious worship or a rumor about a carcass can turbo charge a seemingly placid procession into a violent one. Not surprisingly, religious processions are accompanied and supported with copious police bandobast. That is one reason why police are not able to devote themselves to serious crime management.

Police are bogged down because their energies are sapped by recurring processions and the ensuing incidents. Since ensuring the safe passage of processions entails intense collaboration between the police and the organizers, it also compromises police professionalism. Police productivity can easily go up substantially and they can concentrate on crucial investigative work if they were to be freed from supervising religious processions. Annually about 30000 rape cases and 40000 homicides are reported across the nation. The capital city of Delhi alone has more than 40000 cars stolen annually. The police will be immensely benefited if they get the physical and mental space to apply themselves to critical crime investigation and to pursue prosecution. 

Conference-from-home has become the new global normal. Most shrines, churches, mosques, temples and synagogues have remained shut. The Vatican has held restricted services. The Hajj too is limited to Saudi citizens. Passover has been held indoors, Ramadan iftar was not held outdoors. Likewise, Diwali and Holi have been celebrated indoors. Many temples, mosques and churches have begun to set up digital infrastructure to livestream sermons so that people can stay in their homes and do their prayers from there. In fact, all shrines can create apps and have payment gateways by which people can observe prayers, sponsor rituals and the Prasad can be distributed with the help of delivery start-ups. With hindsight, even for the erstwhile Kumbha the millions of participants could have been motivated to stay at home by home delivering ganga-jal in bottles and asking the sadhus to have the sense of a shahi snana in a virtual manner with a priest performing ceremonies in Haridwar which could have been relayed digitally to reach people globally on their mobiles.

Ultimately, it is our humanity that is crucial for survival – more than any religion. Every government, in the Centre or in the State should push through reforms – to ban religious processions for the next one to two years and encourage virtual puja. That will have dual long-term advantages -- transform the way society thinks and an improvement in the efficacy of policing – essential for both lives and livelihoods.

The author is a former Secretary Government of India

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Raghav Chandra

Former Secretary Government of India

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