Ayodhya: The festival of Ram Navami is usually celebrated with fanfare in Ayodhya, the place where Lord Ram is said to have been born according to the epic Ramayana. But amid the worldwide coronavirus crisis and the pan-India lockdown, the main road leading to the city gates and the Ram Janmabhoomi site, which was awarded to the Hindus by the Supreme Court last year, wore a deserted look Thursday, the day the festival was to be celebrated.
Yet, all of Ayodhya wasn’t deserted when ThePrint visited the city — the inner lanes and temples, including the Hanuman Garhi temple, still had devotees violating the strict social distancing norms the government has imposed in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Also in violation were policemen, who stood in clusters at various points, instead of ensuring the orders were followed.
The usual Ram Navami celebrations in Ayodhya consist of three key activities — taking a dip in the Saryu river, paying homage to Lord Hanuman at the Hanuman Garhi temple, and paying a visit to the Ram Janmabhoomi.
This time, the administration has installed loudspeakers at every 20-30 steps, blaring out warnings to anyone who would violate the coronavirus lockdown.
Section of sadhus slams govt decision
A section of the sadhus is angry about the lockdown imposed by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, saying it is unjust, and that only spirituality can save the country from coronavirus, not measures such as social distancing.
Subhash Yadav, a sadhu at the Hanuman Garhi temple, told ThePrint: “The administration should have allowed Ram Navami celebrations as usual this year, because a dip in the holy Saryu river will not only cleanse our body, but also provides us with nectar in the body, which will keep coronavirus at bay.”
Yadav added: “The Yogi and Modi administrations will have to pay a price for this, as the Indira Gandhi government did after the Emergency.”
Yadav also said the government should provide every migrant labourer Rs 10,000, as their lives have been thrown completely off track due to its decision.
However, Raju Raj, the mahant (head) of the Hanuman Garhi temple, said he and others supported the lockdown.
“We all support the lockdown, as saving lives is a much bigger priority than celebrations and rituals,” he said.
Asked about the discontent among other sadhus like Subhash Yadav, the mahant said: “Everyone has a right to disagree, and be upset about the rights of normal life being denied to them. But each of us agrees with the fact that the lockdown and social distancing is necessary to save all of us from the deadly coronavirus.”
Violations in inner lanes
While all shops in the city were closed and most streets wore a deserted look, a lot of inner lanes and the temples standing there presented a complete contrast.
Despite the administration’s ban on processions, ThePrint spotted substantial numbers of people in temples, openly flouting the social distancing norms.
Even various local residents and police personnel at checkpoints could be spotted in close proximity with each other.
Changur, a labourer from Mirzapur, is stuck in the city due to the lockdown, and could be found sitting with another two or three workers.
“I used to chisel stones at the ‘karyashala’ for the Ram Mandir but I’m stuck here and have nowhere to go now,” he said.
Asked about not following social distancing norms, Changur merely said: “I just know that there is a killer disease spreading in the world and India which has already killed lakhs of Chinese people.”
When ThePrint asked Ayodhya’s Superintendent of Police Vijay Pal Singh about the open violation of orders, he disagreed.
“We have successfully implemented a strict lockdown in the city, wherein no one is unnecessarily coming out on streets, and everyone is following the norms of social distancing,” Singh said.
However, just a few metres away from his office, beggars and other daily-wagers could be seen sitting together on the stairs of the Naya Ghat, hoping to get food. They said there is no regular arrangement of food for them, and they have to rely on people coming out and providing them some, which means sitting together at one place and waiting.