New Delhi, India – Participating in the Kumbh Mela or Pitcher Festival, India’s most important Hindu pilgrimage, was a matter of devotion to 36-year-old Neetesh Dubey.
A government professor by profession, he traveled to the northern Haridwar district of Madhya Pradesh Vidisha in the Indian city of Gyaraspur in the second week of April in the second week of April to attend a week-long festival on the banks of the Ganges River.
When he arrived in Dubey Kumbh, he developed a sore throat and chills due to the flu. On April 17, Dubey and his five friends boarded the train to return to Gyaraspur.
But Dubey’s health continued to deteriorate. A day later, he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The second wave of coronavirus began in India in early April, when millions of Hindus gathered in Haridwar, a Himalayan city in Uttarakhand state to take a holy bath in the Ganges.
On their return home to the devotees on crowded buses and trains, the infection spread to towns and cities, and officials in some states urged monitoring and quarantine.
But many did not go to the coronavirus test, although officials made the announcements in public, asking believers to report and examine them.
Various infections and deaths
An official in the Bhopal Madhya Pradesh capital told Al Jazeera that 83 people from Gyaraspur and neighboring villages had gone to Kumbhera and only 61 had submitted to the tests, while the rest were allegedly hidden.
Sixty-six of the 61 viruses reported being positive, claiming anonymity. “After searching for the missing, the remaining 22 people were also tested and sent to quarantine.”
Gyaraspu’s findings sparked alarms in the central Indian state, as health officials believed that positive cases could become “super-spreaders” of the virus without a trace.
Several celebrities, including Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Nepalese king Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah and Queen Komal Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah and Bolivian composer Shravan Rathod gave a positive after going to Kumbh.
Rathod died on April 22 in Mumbai.
The virus also killed at least nine Hindu spectators who attended the festival, including Swami Shyam Devacharya Maharaj in the Jabalpur village of Madhya Pradesh on April 16 and Mahant Vimal Giri in Uttarakhand last week.
Ramsakhi Dixit, 37, a resident of Gulabganj village in Vidisha, said he had developed COVID symptoms on his return to Kumbh and tested positive the next day.
“There were 80 people in the group traveling on two buses. Of the 40 people on our bus, only about 20 tested positive and 12 tested positive, “he told Al Jazeera by telephone. The other three family members who accompanied Dixit also tested positive for the virus.
Rajesh Rajora, a senior official in the Madhya Pradesh administration told reporters last week that Kumbh returnees accounted for 12-15 per cent of cases in all districts of the state. In some districts, they were 20 percent of the cases, he said.
Coronavirus cases related to Kumbh Mela have also been reported from other Indian states, including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.
Uttarakhand registered 806 deaths a week after the festival ended, and the number of COVID-19 cases doubled in April.
“Many people who went to Kumbher from the western districts of Odisha (Sambalpur, Nuapada and Balangir) spread the virus while traveling on public buses and trains. The virus has spread to the farthest reaches of Indian villages, “social activist Rabi Das, based in the Bhubaneswar capital in Odisha, told Al Jazeera.
“The authorities did not take any action to trace and identify them. They got mixed up with people. “
Sambalpur recorded about 200 cases a day during April. From April 28, he showed a sudden rise in infections, reaching 641 on Sunday.
‘This calamity has been invited’
An investigation by Indian Caravan magazine last week said former Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh was removed from his office a few weeks before the Hindu festival because he requested a limited reunion in Kumbh due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rawat canceled the report, saying the removal had nothing to do with the festival.
The state government of a new prime minister Tirath Singh Rawat directed advertisements on the front page of Indian newspapers, showing a photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi inviting Hindu devotees to the festival.
Among the concerns that the festival could become a widespread event, Rawat said, “Faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus.”
But as the Kumbhe cases and deaths mounted, the Modi government agreed to cancel the festival.
On the 17th day of the month alone, where I already had tens of thousands of baths in the Ganges, he asked devotees to make the feast “symbolic”.
Political observers say the reluctance of the Modi government to cancel the festival was part of the majority Hindu policy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which calmed the religious leaders of the community and won its support before regional elections in Uttarakhand and neighboring Uttar Pradesh. .
“This was part of the majority policies, without taking care of people’s lives. I think they allowed this festival because they had it in 2022 [Uttar Pradesh] remembering the elections, ”Apoovanand, a professor at Delhi University, told Al Jazeera.
“The Modi government celebrates them because of the Hindu state holidays. They invited that misfortune. “