Opening of ‘places of worship’? But, this is not the time!    

By Benjamin Lyngdoh       


It is difficult to comprehend as to ‘why’ the issue of opening of ‘places of worship’ has taken centre stage again. Have we not gone through it already and realized that it was best to keep that in abeyance? However, these days people are talking about it as if it is some trivial issue. Are there reasons for such views? Is it because we are tired of factoring the havoc-creating potency of covid-19? Or, is it because we have given up on the desire to fight against covid-19 and thereby leave everything to chance? In actuality, whichever is the answer; it does not bode well for the near future. In fact, we are throwing ourselves into a whirlwind of certainty as far as a continued spike (and maybe worse) in covid-19 cases is concerned. Accordingly, the plan to open up places of worship from October defies all logic and it goes against the established ‘body of knowledge’ as far as the nature of the pandemic is concerned. Moreover, there are enough evidences which act as a stern warning against any hasty and rash opening decision. In addition, it is also about getting our priorities right. However, is the state government willing to pay heed?


To start with, we must look at the major economies in Western Europe. Spain was amongst the first to open up after being able to ‘partially’ control the pandemic. This was in early July. Gradually, Germany, France, Italy and United Kingdom followed suit. Today, these countries are seeing a resurgence of covid-19 to the extent that France has been talking about a need for another nation-wide lockdown. Well, it is a matter of debate if they are witnessing a second wave of the pandemic or not. But, how does that matter? The point is that if you open up your ‘mass-gathered’ activities (whether religious or otherwise) too soon, there will be serious consequences. These can have dire implications for our health infrastructure. So, should we take the risk? Moreover, why look so far? In fact, there is a glaring example closer home. The Indian state of Kerala celebrated Onam recently. To understand the nature of the pandemic all we need do is to turn to news stories whereby the sudden surge in covid-19 cases post the celebration is widely documented. Till date, Kerala is still seeing a worrisome increase in cases. As such, from being considered as one of the better performing states in controlling covid-19, at present, it is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Hence, before the final decision is taken by those in the corridors of power, please, do sit up and take note!


Coming to the context of Meghalaya, the phrase we all have to accept is ‘community transmission’. In simple terms, when the source of a particular covid-19 case cannot be established then it is considered to be a community transmission. It implies that the novel coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 is openly circulating amongst us and causing the disease covid-19 at will. This is one of the reasons as to why Meghalaya is recording one-hundred plus cases over the last many days. However, these numbers are still under control. This is because the health infrastructure of the state is not yet stretched. As long as this is so, we can consider that things are under control. On hindsight, we have been able to achieve this because of the ‘behavioural change’ towards fighting covid-19 epitomised through wearing of masks, washing hands and social distancing. However, we must not forget that all of this works only under a situation where we continue to restrict mass-gathered events/festivals. Yes, it is agreed that we have to live with covid-19. But, that does not mean that we allow it to explode. Any hasty and rash decision will throw a spanner in the works and all the good work that has been done will be cancelled out. Importantly, October is the month for Durga Puja. It is a week-long festival involving gathering and movement of people. It is a highly risky situation which must be avoided for now. Come to think of it, the State Government must be already aware of the risks involved. But, will it let better sense prevail?


In terms of priority, the opening of schools (and other educational organisations in due course of time) is more urgent and important than opening of places of worship. This is because examinations are near and by now we are all aware about the limitations of online teaching-learning. The crux is that online classes are not a substitute for physical classroom interaction. This is especially so in case of school education. If we observe and discuss matters of education with the students, we will realize that online classes cannot deliver on a subject-matter as desired. The human touch is missing. Moreover, there are certain technical topics (particularly those requiring ‘on-the-job’ learning) which are near impossible to be delivered over the online platform. The end result is that our students learn lessons partially. Their learning is cosmetic in nature. Yes, some of us would point to the role of parents in teaching their kids. Fair enough! However, at the same time please note that not all parents have the capability/time to teach. There are many parents who cannot deal with high school mathematics/science. Hence, let us cut to brass tacks and focus on urgent and important things. School is that priority! Let us take one thing at a time. From 21st September, let us see how the staggered opening of schools’ goes. If everything goes well, then only we may take up the issue of places of worship in due course.          


In the end, as The Good Book says, ‘there is a time for everything’. Keeping in mind the increase and number of covid-19 cases in Meghalaya, the potential of mass-gathered events/festivals to spike-up cases; the difficulty to maintain covid-19 protocols when gathered as a group/crowd and the need to focus first on school reopening, it is urged that the State Government takes a serious re-visit on the issue of opening of places of worship and realize the logic of keeping it in continued abeyance till the time Meghalaya is really able to see a decline in daily cases. As a Christian, this is the one suggestion that is laid down with the hope that we act on the issue logically and scientifically rather than with blind emotions. After all, as of today, if opening is to be seriously discussed, it makes more sense to open the four corners of a school rather than open the four corners of a church/temple/mosque/gurdwara!                                                                                           


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