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Comparison Between Tablighi Jamaat, Kumbh Mela Congregations Fuels Hindu-Muslim Disharmony in India

© REUTERS / ANUSHREE FADNAVISNaga Sadhus, or Hindu holy men, take a dip in the Ganges river during the first Shahi Snan at "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, in Haridwar, India, March 11, 2021
Naga Sadhus, or Hindu holy men, take a dip in the Ganges river during the first Shahi Snan at Kumbh Mela, or the Pitcher Festival, in Haridwar, India, March 11, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 12.04.2021
In March 2020, over 2,000 Islamic scholars from around the world reached the famous Hazrat Nizamuddin area of Delhi to attend the annual Muslim congregation of Tablighi Jamaat. By April, when the same area began reporting COVID cases, Tablighi Jamaat and its members were accused of contributing to a major virus outbreak in Delhi.

A year after an Islamic missionary society's congregation was accused of spreading coronavirus in Delhi, a massive congregation of Hindu devotees is being held as part of "Kumbh Mela" celebrations in the Indian city of Haridwar. 

A general view shows Hindu devotees taking a holy dip in the waters of the River Ganges during Makar Sankranti, a day considered to be of great religious significance in the Hindu mythology, on the first day of the religious Kumbh Mela festival in Haridwar on January 14, 2021.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 10.03.2021
Millions of Hindu Devotees Set to Take 'Holy Bath' in Ganges on Kumbh Mela Amid Surge in COVID Cases
As the country is witnessing record-breaking numbers of COVID cases, the Hindu religious gathering called the "Kumbh Mela" is flourishing in all its glory on the banks of holy river Ganges in Haridwar, located in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. 

Videos and photos of heavily crowded banks of the Ganges from Haridwar have flooded social media in India, clearly showing no COVID-19 protocols are being followed there. The attendees are pushing and shoving each other into the crowds, multiple people are also seen unmasked. Collective dips in the water of the Ganges are also a shocking sight for many locals, especially when India has reported over 100,000 positive cases every day for the past few days.

These visuals have sparked a major debate on social media, where Indian liberals and secularists are calling out Hindus for being hypocrites for enjoying and supporting their religious gatherings but calling Tablighi Jamaat attendees “terrorists” for gathering last year and spreading the virus in the early days of the epidemic.

Some members of the Muslim community have also pointed out that India and its national media owe Islamic scholars an "unconditional apology".

​The Kumbh Mela, which is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years in India in four locations (Prayagraj, Ujjain, Haridwar, and Nashik), is scheduled according to the positions of the Sun, Moon and Jupiter. Under a certain alignment of these celestial bodies, Hindus believe that the water of the Ganges turns into an elixir of purification, allowing devotees to cleanse their souls of sins as they take dips in the water.

This year, the Hindu congregation started on 11 March and will culminate on 27 April in Haridwar.

Local police officials have repeatedly told the media that it is very difficult to maintain social distancing among the crowds right now. However, cops have been trying to get as many people as possible to wear masks.

As per standard operating procedures, only those devotees who have a negative COVID-19 test done 72 hours prior to the date of visit will be allowed to enter the area. Check posts and entry points have been established at the district borders.

As for the Islamic scholars who had flown to Delhi from other countries last year to attend Tablighi Jamaat, India slapped a 10-year travel ban on them last year as a punishment for gathering during a pandemic and propagating it. 

As of now, Indian politicians, especially from the pro-Hindu ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have not commented on the ongoing Kumbh Mela, which is drawing Hindu devotees from around the country to Haridwar.

In a record-breaking high, India on Monday reported a total of 168,912 COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours along with 904 deaths. As per India’s Health Ministry, the country is not only the second-worst nation around the world with 13,527,717 total cases, but is also the world’s fourth-worst hit country in terms of active cases.

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