Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced a three-day relaxation of Covid-19 rules from last Sunday in view of the Bakrid festival. The Supreme Court directed the Kerala government to file its reply quickly to a plea challenging its decision to relax Covid-19 restrictions whereby shops selling clothes, footwear, jewellery, gift items, home appliances and electronics were allowed to be kept open and which may have conducted brisk business for two days.
On the face of it, glaring inconsistencies are apparent in the top court’s stand on the Kanwar Yatra, which six states banned in view of the court’s strictures and warning, and Bakrid. Kerala’s ruling LDF government may be playing expediency politics in pandering to religious sentiment because many more of the minority community may have voted in its favour in the recent Assembly polls. But the top court, which placed the primacy of health and life as paramount in the face of the pandemic, cannot be seen to differentiate between religions.
No one would wish to stand between Muslims and their celebration of an important festival, hopefully with Covid-appropriate precautions in place. The fear is that any invidiousness seen in the relative treatment of the festival and the yatra may embolden Hindu netas to whip up passions by pointing to the lack of judicial consistency. There is, however, a big difference between the Kanwar Yatra, which could attract a multitude of devotees converging at a point and then taking out a rally with holy water, and Bakrid, which is essentially celebrated at home and in mosques, but in small gatherings in view of Covid restrictions.
The problem is a government is seen here as the initiator of rule relaxations owing to a religious festival. If the Tablighi was a super spreader event, so too was the Kumbh Mela and the deadly virus does not differentiate on the basis of religion, willing as it is to enter any human host who is vulnerable. It is a pity while we still grapple with the second wave, during which Kerala is still counting the highest numbers nationally in terms of fresh infections on a daily basis, that religious sentiments should deceive anyone into spawning greater danger during the pandemic.