The Covid-19 pandemic has cast a shadow on Durga Puja festivities across India. According to a report in this newspaper, puja organisers in Delhi have decided to suspend large-scale public celebrations. In West Bengal, the celebrations will be muted too, with many organisers taking a range of measures, as per the state’s “General Guidelines for Durga Puja 2020”. However, there is unhappiness in certain quarters over Monday’s Calcutta High Court (HC) order that banned visitors from pandals and ordered police to set up barricades outside structures that have attracted thousands of devotees already. On Tuesday, the Durgotsav Forum, an umbrella organisation of Kolkata’s 400 biggest pujas, filed a review petition against the order.
While there may be some difficulties in following the HC guidelines, citizens must understand that this is a pandemic year, and wearing masks, ensuring distance and washing hands are the only ways to prevent the spread of the disease. A popular pandal in Kolkata easily attracts thousands of visitors each night. In fact, in its order, HC said it is inconceivable that Kolkata Police will “have enough personnel” to man the more than 3,000 pujas held within its jurisdiction or to meaningfully control the massive crowds, in addition to its other duties.
So the onus falls squarely on organisers and the public to behave responsibly. India is at the crossroads. If caution is not exercised and safety protocols are not followed, as the experience in other countries and in Kerala during Onam celebrations have shown, the numbers could shoot up again. The festival season has a large socio-economic footprint; but this year it may be best to express faith privately. God will understand.