Even as most of the people in India celebrated Holi with their families and avoided gatherings on Monday, there were thousands who joined huge crowds to celebrate the festival in Mathura, Vrindavan, Prayagraj, Shahjahanpur in UP, Ujjain in MP and Nanded in Maharashtra.
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, we showed how thousands of devotees celebrated Holi without masks and social distancing in Mathura, Vrindaban, Ujjain and Prayagraj. These visuals were worrying and I do not know how many of these devotees would have taken the virus to their homes after the celebrations.
The surge in the daily number of new Covid cases is soon going to touch 70,000 in India. There were nearly 2,000 new cases in Delhi during the last 24 hours, with many private hospitals running short of ICU beds with ventilators. States like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Punjab and Uttarakhand are grimly tackling the second wave of the pandemic. 31,643 fresh Covid cases were reported from Maharashtra, while 2,323 new cases were reported from neighbouring MP. Punjab reported 2,914 new cases during the last 24 hours, despite strict enforcement of the ban on gatherings.
I am citing these statistics in order to tell readers about the grim scenario that is unfolding as the spike continues unabated. The pandemic is surely going to spread, as many cities witnessed huge crowds of Holi revellers on Monday. I am sad that many people are still unwilling to accept the enormity of this pandemic. I have been repeatedly saying for the last several weeks: Coronavirus does not enter your homes invited, it is you who carry the virus to your homes because of sheer negligence.
If thousands of revellers sing, shout and dance while celebrating Holi, throwing colours and water at one another, one should be ready to watch a spike in Covid numbers. As of now, Covid is under control in Uttar Pradesh. Two weeks ago, the daily number of cases was between 200 to 300, but now, the number of fresh cases is in the range of more than 1,400. For a state with a 22 crore population, this number may not be worrying, but chief minister Yogi Adityanath has already cautioned people to be on their guard. His appeal fell on deaf ears if one goes by the revelry on Monday.
Thousands of devotees assembled at the Banke Bihari temple in Mathura on Monday to celebrate Holi. The same was the scene at Dwarkadheesh temple. Not only local residents, but devotees from across the country had come to celebrate the festival. Thousands of people go to Mathura, Vrindavan on weekends from Delhi NCR, Haryana and Rajasthan. There was joy and fervour, but the only thing that was missing was: Covid appropriate behaviour.
At the Purana Chowk in Prayagraj, thousands assembled to celebrate Holi, with DJ music playing at full volume, people dancing amidst a riot of colours and the traditional tearing of clothes took place. No masks, no distancing, no fear of Covid. The revellers let go of themselves in merriment. This city has registered an average daily spike of 70 to 80 cases in recent weeks.
In Shahjahanpur, thousands of people joined a customary Holi procession, throwing colours, water at one another. Police and PAC jawans accompanied the procession. This was ‘joota-maar’ Holi, in which a man without clothes, poses as an English Viceroy (Laat Saheb) sitting on a bullock cart, and he is beaten with shoes by the crowd, to express anger against British rule. This procession is taken out every year during Holi since the days of the freedom movement.
In Nanded, Maharashtra, at the famous Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib, thousands of devotees broke open the gates locked by police, and barged into the shrine, to play Holi and Hola Mohalla, the traditional Sikh festivals. Several vehicles were damaged, and nearly 10 policemen were injured in the attack by sword and stick-wielding devotees. The devotees were angry because they had been stopped by authorities from celebrating Hola Mohalla at the gurdwara.
I am amazed when people ask, how long should we wait for the pandemic to end? How can the pandemic spread by celebrating festivals, if crowds can be allowed at public meetings in Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala? What’s wrong with celebrating the festival with friends? Should we stop going to temples and meeting people? Should we stop living because of Corona?
My answer is: Do whatever you wish but be very, very cautious. Already different strains of the mutant virus are spreading fast, and God forbid, you could be the next target. You can celebrate Holi with gay abandon next year, but you have only one life to live.
Let me tell you: on March 29 last year, the total number of Covid patients in India was 979. At that time, the nation was under complete lockdown. Only 25 people had died on this date last year. There were only 106 fresh cases last year on a single day.
Today, we have more than five lakh active Covid cases. There were nearly 70,000 fresh Covid cases during the last 24 hours. More than 1,61,000 Indians have died of Corona till now. In spite of these terrifying numbers, if people question, where is Corona, I can only say, we are very soon going to watch the pandemic going out of control.
In the name of religion and faith, if people defy Covid regulations and attack police, what can a government do? What can the police do? These are questions that make every sane Indian worry.
The world has praised India for tackling the pandemic on an unprecedented scale. India was shown as a shining example, how the second-most populous country of the world carried out Covid management on a gigantic scale, providing treatment, PPEs, ventilators and oxygen for the needy.
The world watched how by enforcing a nationwide lockdown, India gained crucial time to manufacture equipment to tackle the pandemic, and arrested the spread of the virus. During those times, countries like the USA, England, France, Germany and Italy were facing the onslaught of the pandemic. When the graph came down, Americans defied Covid protocols, went merrymaking in clubs and restaurants, went to sea beaches during the Christmas holidays, and had to face the second wave of the pandemic. The USA continues to be No. 1 in the list of pandemic-hit countries.
We, in India, are treading that dangerous path. By defying standard Covid protocols, we are throwing caution to the winds. We must know that Covid vaccines provide us with protection, but there is no guarantee that you may not be infected. All that the vaccine may do is to create antibodies so that you cannot be struck fatally by the virus. You may not have to go to the hospital for treatment. You can recover at home.
That is why, everybody is being asked to follow these key steps: (1) wear masks in public places (2) keep social distancing and (3) avoid crowded places and (4) wash your hands with soap frequently. This is the only way to keep yourself protected.
Coronavirus does not differentiate between the rich and the poor, between the literate and the illiterate. IIM students are supposed to be super-skilled in management, but even they fall prey to the virus due to negligence. More than 70 people in a 5-star hotel in Chennai and 78 people in the Taj hotel in Rishikesh fell prey to the virus.
Always be on alert, and follow the Covid protocol. Nobody wants a complete lockdown. It affects jobs, it breaks the back of our economy. All of us had to face financial challenges throughout last year. I still hope a situation will not arise, where lockdown is necessary. But why should we create such a situation where lockdown becomes a fait accompli?
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India’s Number One and the most followed Super Prime Time News Show ‘Aaj Ki Baat – Rajat Sharma Ke Saath was launched just before the 2014 General Elections. Since its inception, the show is redefining India’s super-prime time and is numerically far ahead of its contemporaries.