With the lockdown, imposed to prevent the intensity and spread of Covid-19 pandemic, having completed two and a half months, people have been welcoming with unusual enthusiasm the central and state governments' easing of restrictions which are aimed at mitigation of economic stagnation and restoring normal life. As per the latest decision, areas declared as hotspots with greater chances of Covid spread are excluded from relaxations - and even tighter controls imposed there -and shops, commercial establishments and malls can function within the prescribed controls.
Public transport has more or less been restored. Relaxations for places of worship to open with conditions have been made by the state government in line with directives of the Centre since Tuesday. The central and state governments' steps are in response to the repeated demands and pressure by the people and popular organizations. On the other hand, the unprecedented rate of flow of expatriates and Malayalis in other states - with resultant chances of contacts with them - has resulted in a worrying increase of Covid cases, a fact that cannot be lost sight of.
The stipulation that returnees from outside have to be quarantined in institutional set-ups by the government, has now been waived; the health department was forced to issue orders that the returnees can spend the quarantine period within their homes following the conditions, the main reason for this being the inability to bear its costs. If Kerala is thrown into a situation of social spread, observers warn, it will not take long for the state to become another Mumbai, Delhi or Ahmedabad. All the same, it is impossible to tell 'No' to Keralites longing to return home, just for preventing such an eventuality.
It is at such a very critical juncture that the governments have granted permission to open places of worship, even as they are places where it is difficult to check crowding. Although there are sections among the faithful who feel that the permission was unwarranted or premature, the overall public mood appears to be in favour of easing. But at issue is how far it is workable to open them in compliance with the restrictions. The premises need to be disinfected, a six-foot physical distance has to be observed, even in large places of worship a maximum of 100 people will be allowed, entry is banned for the sick and those under 10 and above 65 years of age, and name and phone numbers of all those who enter will have to be recorded. It is certain that most of the religious administrations will not find all this workable. That is why Muslim religious bodies and Christian churches by and large have opined that it is better not to open places of worship at this stage, and if at all there are bodies insistent on re-opening them, they should strictly abide by the stipulations.
It is consoling that a demand for more liberal relaxations has not been raised. For, no religion fails to accept the principle that the foremost consideration is human lives and their protection. The axiomatic counsel of holy scriptures is that 'you should not plunge into destruction'. The role of the wise is to make optimum use of waivers with utmost care without abandoning caution at all. However, in the matter of Hindu temples and places of worship, the picture is a tad different. It is undeniable that the basis for the decision of Left Democratic Front government in Kerala, is the guidelines issued by the Modi government, supported by the Hindutva school. And the state government is bound by the directives of the central government in regard to concessions to be granted. However, the sangh parivar in Kerala has taken a stand in of opposing the Pinarayi government's decision to allow Hindu temples to open, as in the case of other religions, and it is not easy to accept that this stand is either religious or motivated by real religious interests.
As a matter of fact, the demand that Hindu places of worship should not be opened now has not come from any spiritual plane. If it is difficult to open temples under the restrictions, such a stand has to be taken by related Devaswom Boards or temple committees. It is relevant to recall the Supreme Court's verdict allowing entry of women into Sabarimala, issued in reponse to a petition by the Hindutva exponents themselves; the sangh parivar unleashed a staunch campaign against the state government's attempt to enforce the court order. We have witnessed the consequence of the agitation on that basis and its impact in the last Lok Sabha election. And now the temple-centric protests with an eye on the upcoming local bodies election and the following state assembly elections cannot be treated as anything but one aimed at protecting religious interests.