The Telegraph – Connect Kejri dots: Shaheen, Hanuman, Gita

The AAP convener’s advice to read the holy text came towards the end of his daily webcast briefing

Pheroze L. Vincent

New Delhi – India, 31 March 2020. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday asked people to read the Bhagavad Gita for half an hour every day over the remaining lockdown period, triggering fears that such advice could alienate sections of the society.

A source in the ruling Aam Aadmi Party said Kejriwal passes on to the public “whatever suggestions” could help ease their fears in this time of crisis, as a family member would.

The AAP convener’s advice to read the holy text, part of the Mahabharat, came towards the end of his daily webcast briefing. “If you feel good about doing this at home, then there are 18 chapters of the Gita and 18 days of lockdown,” he said.

“Since yesterday, my wife has started reciting the Gita in my house too. Our whole family sits together and reads a chapter. It takes only half an hour. Therefore, if you also feel like, you can… recite the Gita in your home.”

Sunday was the fifth day of the 21-day lockdown the Prime Minister had announced on March 24 as part of concerted efforts to battle the Covid-19 pandemic.

This wasn’t the first time Kejriwal had resorted to religion in recent times. Ahead of the Delhi elections last month, he had invoked Hanuman, a popular deity especially in North India, in what appeared to be an attempt to undercut the BJP’s narrative of projecting the AAP as anti-Hindu for its opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Later, after the riots broke out in the capital, the Delhi government had stood aloof. Party leaders said the government’s role as a bystander was a misguided attempt to appease Hindus that affected his credibility as an efficient and secular leader.

“No, this (invocation of the Gita) should not have been done…,” former AAP leader and journalist Ashutosh told The Telegraph.

“Is he claiming that he is only the chief minister of Hindus. I don’t know his intent, but if you connect the dots, he did not meet (the anti-CAA) protesters at Shaheen Bagh, he did not visit Northeast Delhi while the riots were happening, then one can assume that he is trying to cultivate a Hindu vote bank.

There is no problem if he recites the Gita in his personal capacity, but as a chief minister asking everyone to do so is crossing the line.” Ashutosh added: “If it is a mistake, he should correct it. If not, then it is dangerous to alienate sections of society,

This is the danger of getting caught in a narrative that is not your natural narrative. This could be explained as a strategy before elections, but there are no polls now.” The Delhi government is yet to respond to the suspension of two of its senior officers by the Centre, ostensibly for allowing buses to ferry those who wanted to leave Delhi.

Kejriwal’s private secretary Bibhav Kumar and the AAP’s chief spokesman and Delhi MLA, Saurabh Bharadwaj, did not respond to queries on the Gita pitch.

A source in the government, however, said: “It is a bit rich to talk of the Gita when one can’t summon the courage, if not common sense, to defend bureaucrats whose careers could be jeopardised for implementing orders.”

The nature of Delhi’s polity, the source added, is such that the Centre has a greater say than it has in other states.

“In such a situation, if their government does not defend their actions, there is no motivation for public servants to heed lawful directions of the elected government of Delhi rather than toe the line set by North Block (the seat of the Union home ministry).”

An AAP source said it was a “policy decision” not to get into confrontation with the BJP or the Centre at a time of crisis.

“Kejriwal made that clear too at yesterday’s briefing, MLA and senior party leader Raghav Chadha is now set to face harassment as a case has been filed against him for criticizing Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath,” the source said.

“We have taken a conscious decision of focusing on helping those in need. The time to counter the BJP is not now. Whatever suggestions can ease the fears of the public, and help them stay calm, the chief minister passes them on, as a family member would.”

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/connect-arvind-kejriwa-dots-shaheen-hanuman-gita/cid/1760687?ref=india_india-page

Hindustan Times – Malaysia airlifts 180 citizens stranded in Amritsar

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 31 March 2020. About 180 Malaysians who were stranded in the Holy City after India banned international flights following the Covid-19 outbreak flew back home in a special Malindo Air aircraft from the Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport here on Monday.

All were of Indian origin and had come to Amritsar to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple (Harmandr Sahib). They also visited their native villages in Punjab, besides other tourist destinations across the country.

Delighted to be returning to their country, many of them chanted “Sat Sri Akal” while leaving their hotel for the airport to thank God for the efforts to rescue them.

They also had a word of praise for Baldev Singh, a prominent Indian settled in Malaysia, who runs Sri Saheb Production House there, for tying up with the government there to arrange for the flight.

Airport director Manoj Chansoria said the flight took off at 2.40pm on Monday for Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

60-year-old Malaysian tourist Gurbachan Singh said: “We landed in Amritsar on March 7 and were scheduled to return on March 21, but our flight was cancelled. Punjab Police, civil administration and local Sikh institutions helped us a lot.”

“This is my first visit to India. Though I am Malaysia-born, my roots are in Punjab. We have no words to express our happiness. First we got an opportunity to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple. Now, we are returning to home where we will be able to put ourselves under self-quarantine,” said Jatinder Singh, a 25-year-old youth.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/malaysia-airlifts-180-citizens-stranded-in-amritsar/story-QhbEy5LHXaKiZbERVuDXzI.html

The Hindustan Times – Covid-19: Five reasons you must stay home during lock-down

Stepping out results in contamination of surfaces or objects, from where it can infect people who touch the surface and then touch their own mouth, nose, or eyes.

Virus spreads through contact

New Delhi – India, 30 March 2020. The virus spreads between people in close contact (within 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. But the infection can spread before people develop symptoms, which, on an average, take around five days to appear.

Some people develop no symptoms and others have mild disease but still infect others. Stepping out also results in contamination of surfaces or objects, from where it can infect people who touch the surface and then touch their own mouth, nose, or eyes.

The virus spreads very easily in areas where there is community transmission of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in US.

Infection may occur without close contact

Scientists have documented a cluster of cases among people who worked in shops, visitors or were staff of a mall without direct contact with an infected person, according to a research document called “Indirect Virus Transmission in Cluster of Covid-19 Cases, Wenzhou” in China published by the CDC on March 12.

Indirect transmission may have happened among these unrelated cases from spread via surfaces like elevator buttons or restroom taps, said the paper. For case-patients who were customers in the shopping mall but did not report using the restroom, the source of infection could have been the elevators or asymptomatic patients.

Lockdown greatly reduces transmission

A recent study by the Imperial College London’s Covid-19 team found that population-wide social distancing would have the largest impact in transmission reduction; and, in combination with other interventions, such as home isolation of infected people and closure of schools and universities.

There are many more scientific studies that prove massive social distancing measures can stabilise transmission and give governments time to prepare for a spurt in infections.

Lockdown helped China control the pandemic

China enforced similar lockdowns in phases with far more stringency for over two months. Along with massive lockdowns, electronic surveillance was used in China to track people’s movements. Some 760 million people, roughly half the country’s population, were confined to their homes.

A World Health Organization report recently concluded that the cordon sanitaire (restriction on movement of people) around Wuhan and neighbouring municipalities effectively ended infected people travelling to the rest of the country. The team noted a steep decline in new infections because of the lockdown.

China’s model has been replicated in Italy, in the US New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain and other European countries. They have all ordered people to stay at home, threatening them with fines in some cases.

Lockdown helps governments track and trace

To contain spread, governments must identify infected cases and isolate them and their close contacts before they step out and infect many others in the community, as it happened in the case of the Sikh granthi who travelled to around 20 villages and put a large number of people at risk of infection before he was diagnosed with the Covid-19.

Tracking and quarantining is done through continuous surveillance, which is possible during a lockdown. The lockdown also prevents undiagnosed infected people from travelling and further spreading the infection.

The government can also use this time to build health infrastructure, source ventilators, medicines and personal protection equipment like masks and gloves for healthcare workers, train healthcare workers in treatment and infection-control, and accelerate vaccine and diagnostic development for Covid-19 patients.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/covid-19-five-reasons-you-must-stay-home-during-lockdown/story-4OT3cD2OQVzEO7VUtOsLDI.html

The Tribune – Bodies of three Sikhs killed in Kabul attack to be brought to India on Monday: Harsimrat Kaur

Urges PM to facilitate relocation of Afghan Sikhs who want to settle in India

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 29 March 2020. Union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal on Sunday said bodies of three Sikhs killed in the Kabul gurdwara attack, whose families were based in India, would be brought back to the country on Monday.

She also appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take steps to facilitate the relocation of all Afghan Sikhs who wanted to leave Afghanistan and settle in India.

In a statement here, Harsimrat said the bodies of three Sikhs were being brought back to India tomorrow. He said while the families of two, Shankar Singh and Jiwan Singh were based in Ludhiana, the third Tian Singh’s family was based in Delhi.

She said while Shankar’s wife would also return with her husband’s body to Ludhiana where his six children were residing with their maternal grandparents, Jiwan’s wife and children were living in Ludhiana.

The Union minister has appealed to the Prime Minister to initiate an exercise to relocate all Afghan Sikhs who wanted to leave Afghanistan due to growing insecurity and threats to their very lives and livelihood.

She said from a population of several thousands, only around 300 to 400 Sikh families remained in Afghanistan with thousands migrating to India and elsewhere in the last more than one decade.

She also appealed to the Prime Minister to take up the issue of the safety and security of the Sikh community in Afghanistan with the latter government. “Sikhs in Afghanistan are undergoing a trauma. They are facing threats on a day to day basis.

Earlier also there have been gruesome attacks on its members including a terrorist attack in 2018 while killed 13 persons in Jalalabad. Many want to leave Afghanistan and relocate in India. This relocation should be facilitated at the earliest,” he added.

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/bodies-of-3-sikhs-killed-in-kabul-attack-to-be-brought-to-india-on-monday-harsimrat-62808

Hindustan Times – Golden Temple (Harmandr Sahib) offers hope for humanity in times of corona-virus

Upholding maryada devotees, in fewer numbers due to the curfew, join the keepers of the faith to ensure dawn-to-dusk rituals are carried out uninterrupted at the holiest shrine of the Sikhs

Surjit Singh

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 30 March 2020. ‘Tu kahe doleh parania, tudh rakhega sirjanhar (Don’t lose heart, O man, you will be defended and taken care of by God, the Creator of everything)’.

The reassuring shabad at the Golden Temple is apt in these troubled times of the corona-virus disease.

The holiest shrine of the Sikhs may be seeing far fewer devotees due to the curfew to ensure social distancing, but the age-old maryada and dawn-to-dusk rituals of parkash, kirtan and sukhasan, traditions that were interrupted only during Operations Bluestar (1984) and Black Thunder (1986) in living memory, are being followed religiously.

Hymns reverberate in the precincts, and far beyond, through the live telecast that is now providing spiritual solace to devotees holed up in their homes the world over.

Keepers of the faith, including raagis and sewadars, begin their day as early as 2am for the amrit vela (the pre-dawn) ceremony that starts with the opening of kiwars (doors of darshani deori). Despite the curfew, about 100 devotees recite prayers followed by kirtan of Asa di Vaar, a hymn by Guru Nanak.

“It is a daily ritual to be here, even in the curfew,” says Tarundeep Singh, a youngster who lives nearby, and is adept at blowing the narsinga (a traditional wind instrument) while the Palki Sahib (golden palanquin) carries the holy saroop of Guru Granth Sahib.

Normally, about 3,000 devotees watch the proceedings, says Giani Maan Singh, a granthi (priest*). “Now the sangat comes daily but only in the required number so as to uphold the maryada,” he says.

Faith comes first

The kirtan by hazoori raagis (regular Gurbani exponents) are telecast live throughout the day on social media ever since the curfew came into effect last week.

Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) sewadars and half the devotees wear masks in the parikarma of the shrine but not in the sanctum sanctorum.

“No devotee is prohibited from wearing masks inside the sanctum sanctorum, but it is against the maryada for granthis. They keep a ‘hajuria’ (a piece of cloth) around their neck to ensure cleanliness,” says Gobind Singh Lonogwal, the president of the SGPC that manages affairs of the shrine and has scaled down its staff to 30%.

The sangat continues to drink jal (water) from the holy sarovar, while the Akhand Path (48-hour, non-stop recitation of Guru Granth Sahib) continues as usual.

Devotees happily accept the karah parshad offered by the sewadar on their exit from Darbar Sahib. It is prepared according to the footfall of the sangat. “As usual, the first deg (offering) goes to the sanctum sanctorum at 1.30am.

As a limited sangat comes, only five cans of 15-kg desi ghee is consumed to prepare the parshad in a day. During a normal day, 40 cans would be consumed, while on special days such as gurpurbs, the consumption goes up to 75 cans,” says Kulwant Singh, a cook at the shrine’s kitchen.

Eat, Pray, Serve

The coronavirus curfew has not been able to halt the operation of Guru Ram Das Langar Ghar, the largest community kitchen, where food is served free of cost. The service continues round the clock.

“The devotees come to do seva even when there is no relaxation in curfew,” says Harjit Singh, an SGPC employee overseeing the langar operation.

Gurmeet Singh, 25, from Koom Kalan in Ludhiana district who came along with a friend to do seva a week ago, says, “I recovered from an accident and wanted to express my gratitude by doing seva. The curfew has given us a golden opportunity to spend more time and serve in the Guru’s abode.”

*There are no priests in Sikhi, the Granthi is more like a protestant minister, who also is not a mediator between God and mankind
Man-in-Blue

https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/golden-temple-offers-hope-for-humanity-in-times-of-coronavirus/story-QHaovKK9NhpCDlARU55eBN.html

Scroll.in – FIR filed against AAP MLA Raghav Chadha for tweeting against Adityanath over migrant exodus

The AAP leader alleged that migrants travelling from Delhi to Uttar Pradesh were being beaten up on Chief Minister Adityanath’s orders.

New Delhi – India, 29 March 2020. A first information report was registered against Aam Aadmi Party MLA Raghav Chadha on Sunday for making alleged objectionable statements about Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath over the mass migrant exodus that started after a countrywide lockdown was announced to battle coronavirus, The Indian Express reported.

The FIR was filed based on a complaint by Prashant Patel, an advocate, in Noida.

Chadha alleged that migrants travelling from Delhi to Uttar Pradesh were being thrashed on the orders of Adityanath. “According to sources, Yogiji is getting migrants going from Delhi to UP beaten up,” he said in a tweet.

“He is saying why did you go to Delhi and you will not be allowed to go to Delhi again. My appeal to UP government is not to do this and not to increase problems in this difficult hour.”

However, Chadha later deleted the tweet.

The lockdown has caused tens of thousands of people, mostly young daily-wage laborers but also families, to flee large cities where they have lost their source of livelihood. The mass exodus of thousands of migrant workers, who are leaving for their hometowns in bustling buses, has sparked fears about the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

On Sunday, the Narendra Modi-led central government told states and Union Territories to seal their borders, as migrant labourers attempted to return home on foot. Earlier in the day, Modi apologised to the public for imposing a three-week national lockdown, calling it harsh but saying India “needed to win” the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Adityanath on Saturday ordered officials to keep nearly 1 lakh people who have arrived in the state in the last three days in quarantine camps for 14 days. He also instructed officials that the essential needs of people kept in quarantine must be fulfilled.

The number of Covid-19 patients who have died in India rose to 25 on Sunday morning, an increase of six since the previous government update. Sixty-one new patients were confirmed across the country, taking the number of cases to 979. Of these, 86 have now recovered.

https://scroll.in/latest/957612/fir-filed-against-aap-mla-raghav-chadha-for-tweeting-against-adityanath-over-migrant-exodus

The Indian Express – Serving over 10k meals a day, Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib’s kitchen runs short of wheat

It is for the first time in four decades that the gurdwara management has sought help from the government to meet the need for supplies to its kitchen.

Divya Goyal

Ludhiana – Panjab – India, 29 March 2020. Not once in its 90-year existence did Ludhiana’s Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib run out of wheat flour for its langar kitchen.

But as it serves over 10,000 meals daily amid the lockdown, the gurdwara is running short of wheat supplies to keep serving parshadas (rotis) to those who turn up for langar and those who look forward to packed meals from its langar kitchen in these unprecedented times due to corona-virus.

It is also for the first time in four decades that the gurdwara management has sought help from the government to meet the need for supplies to its kitchen.

But while people, migrants, daily-wagers and the homeless, continue to show up, Punjab government’s Department of Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs is yet to respond to gurdwara management’s request for wheat bags.

In the meantime, the management has arranged a few tonnes of wheat, but it fears that the stock won’t last long given the surge in demand for langar during lockdown.

Apart from serving langar at the gurdwara, food packets are being supplied by the shrine 24×7.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Prithpal Singh (65), president, Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib, said: “Langar is the most valuable element of our Punjabi culture and Sikhism.

People and faiths across the globe admire us for langar because in Punjab no one sleeps empty-stomach. Our langar kitchen has been serving 10,000 meals a day at least since always, and now after the curfew, even as the people coming to langar hall has decreased, the demand for packed meals is increasing.”

He added: “We are supplying at least 6,000 meals of packed food a day (twice a day) and then another 5,000 meals (twice a day) are being served to homeless and poor people, mostly migrants, who are still coming to have food.

It was for the first time that we ran short of wheat and we approached the food supplies minister. But they have failed to deliver wheat bags. It was disappointing as well as heartbreaking.”

Gurdwara president said that they are ready to supply double the capacity of food packets, but for that they need wheat. “I personally called Food Supplies Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu and asked for help apprising him of entire situation. We have always paid and bought grocery for langar.

Even now we were ready to pay to government also but the department did not deliver us wheat bags. At last, we have arranged some stock on our own through arthiyas (commission agents) but we do not know how long it will last,” he said.

Temporarily, the gurdwara has now arranged 23 tonnes of wheat from arthiyas paying Rs 21,085 per tonne but seeing that demand for meals has been increasing with 2-2.5 tonnes being consumed each day, it might last for next 7-10 days or less.

“It all depends on how many food packets are delivered apart from sangat still visiting langar hall. At least 5,000 (twice a day) are still coming to gurdwara to have food, mostly daily wagers and migrants. We cannot deny food to anyone. We are also supplying food to temples and mosques.

Assi ajj tak kisi aggey hath ni failaaya, sarkar agge vi ni (We have never begged for anything from government or otherwise) but if langar kitchen is expected to deliver cooked food, we need raw material for that. We are even ready to pay for it but the department failed to arrange wheat for us on priority.

We did it on our own,” said Prithpal Singh. He added that there was enough stock for dal (pulses) and vegetables are being brought on daily basis but all they need is wheat flour.

“This situation would have been avoided had our wheat crop on 40 acres of land owned by gurdwara had not been damaged due to untimely rains or if some time was given to prepare for curfew instead of sudden announcement,” he said.

The kitchen at gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib, among the largest in Punjab, serves meals (dal, roti and vegetables) to at least 10,000 persons apart from tea-snacks langar (once a day). The kitchen has capacity to produce 4,500 rotis in an hour. “We can arrange another roti making machine and double up the capacity.

But we need at least 30 tonnes of wheat more for lockdown till 14 April. People are coming to ask for food packets. Today also food was supplied in Haibowal and Dugri areas,” said Pithpal Singh, who has been a sewadar at the gurdwara for over 34 years.

When contacted, Arvinder Sandhu, Inspector, Food & Civil Supplies Department, said: “There were some issues such as transportation and scarcity of wheat and we have informed higher officials about wheat shortage being faced by gurdwara. District Food Supplies Controller will be the right person to comment on it.”

Sukhwinder Singh Gill, District Food Supplies Controller, said that wheat stock lying with them belongs to central government and for that they have to get permission from Food Corporation of India (FCI) to supply it to the gurdwara.

“We cannot issue wheat bags to anyone without FCI’s permission. We will try solving issue on Monday and gurdwara can buy wheat from us for Rs 20,080 per tonne,” he said.

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-coronavirus-lockdown-ludhiana-gurdwara-langar-6336934/

The Hindu – Kabul gurdwara attacker left a wide footprint

He did small jobs in Bengaluru, Malaysia, Saudi and Dubai before joining IS

Suhasini Haidar – Vijaita Singh

New Delhi – India, 29 March 2020. The man from Kasaragod in Kerala, who is suspected to be one of the three attackers who killed 25 Sikh worshippers in Kabul, Afghanistan, has been on the move since he was 16, taking up small jobs in Bengaluru, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Dubai before making his way to Afghanistan to join the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the body of Tian Singh, the lone Indian killed in the March 25 attack, is expected to be brought to India on Monday, sources told The Hindu. His body will be brought on one of the special flights expected this week to take out about 2,500 Afghan tourists and temporary visitors.

On 25 March, his widow Rajeet Kaur and one son, Jagmeet Singh, had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for an early repatriation of his last remains, as all commercial flights had been cancelled owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sources said the government gave special permission to the Afghan embassy in Delhi to operate several special flights, the first of which flew to Kabul on Saturday, and also put in a request for the return of Tian Singh’s body.

Two other children who are unable to travel from London have also tweeted an appeal for visas from the Indian High Commission in London and permission to return and “attend and perform the last rites” of their father.

A loner with no known friends in India, Muhammed Muhsin, 29, is said to have contacted his mother about nine months ago Telegram, when he was thought to be in Dubai, a senior official said. Muhsin, he said, had asked his mother to join a group called ‘Gentleman’ on the app.

On March 26, she received a message from a Telegram ID, ‘@war3030’, that her son was dead.

One of his brothers confirmed to security agencies that the photograph of the attacker published by Al Naba, the propaganda wing of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), is that of Muhsin’s.

The officials have claimed that though Muhsin was never on the radar of the police, the security agencies had noticed his father’s mobile phone number in a WhatsApp group created by Rashid Abdullah, alias Abu Isa, who led the group of 21 men and women from Kerala that had left India in 2016.

“While verifying the details of the members of the WhatsApp group moderated by Rashid, it was found that Muhsin was then in Dubai,” said the official. The official said Muhsin dropped out of a government school in Class XI. He also went to a madrassa in Class VII.

He moved to Bengaluru to work in a hotel but returned after a year. He then moved to Dubai where he worked at Emirates Petroleum. On his return, he moved to Malaysia.

“He came back in 2015, stayed for a few months in Kerala only to move to Saudi Arabia in 2016,” the official said. He came from Saudi Arabia in 2018 and stayed in Kerala for four months. He left for Dubai the same year and did not return. He last contacted his mother nine months ago.

As reported by The Hindu, the family did not inform the police that Muhsin was missing. Officials suspect he moved to Afghanistan from Dubai to join the ISKP.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kabul-attacker-left-a-wide-footprint/article31195055.ece

The Statesman – ‘Sikh families who want to be flown out of Afghanistan, it’s our duty to help them’: Amarinder Singh

On 25 March unidentified gunmen and suicide bombers stormed a Sikh gurdwara in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, killing at least 27 worshippers and wounding as many, in one of the deadliest attacks on the minority community in the country.

New Delhi – India, 28 March 2020. Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh, on Saturday, urged Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to bring stranded Sikh families back from war-ravaged Afghanistan to India.

CM Singh took to Twitter and said, “Dear Dr S Jaishankar, there are a large number of Sikh families who want to be flown out of Afghanistan. Request you to get them airlifted at the earliest. In this moment of crisis, it’s our bounden duty to help them.”

On 25 March, unidentified gunmen and suicide bombers stormed a Sikh gurdwara in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, killing at least 27 worshippers and wounding as many, in one of the deadliest attacks on the minority community in the country.

India had condemned the heinous terror attack on the gurdwara in Kabul and said such “cowardly attacks especially at this time of COVID 19 pandemic is reflective of diabolical mindset of perpetrators, their backers”.

“We convey our sincerest condolences to the immediate family members of the deceased and wish speedy recovery to the injured. India stands ready to extend all possible assistance to the affected families of the Hindu and Sikh community of Afghanistan,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar also condemned the attack. He had said: “Deeply concerned at the blasts reported near the cremation site of those killed during the attack on Gurudwara Sahib in Kabul.”

Jaishankar said that Indian Embassy in Kabul was in touch with Kabul security authorities. He said that he has asked them to ensure adequate security onsite as well as safe return of families to their homes thereafter.

CM Amarinder Singh and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had also condemned the attack on a religious gathering in a Gurdwara in Kabul. Amarinder Singh described the attack as extremely “tragic and unfortunate”.

“Horrific news coming from Kabul where a barbaric terror attack happened in the Gurudwara Guru Har Rai. It’s extremely tragic and unfortunate. Request (Afghanistan) President @Ashraf Ghani Ji to find out the perpetrators and look after our people,” Singh had tweeted.

The Ashraf Ghani government has blamed the Pakistan-backed Haqqani network for the terror attack.

However, the Taliban, has denied involvement in the attack on the Sikh shrine. Though the US and Taliban have signed a peace deal, violence in Afghanistan remains unabated.

‘Sikh families who want to be flown out of Afghanistan, it’s our duty to help them’: Amarinder Singh

The Asian Age – Lockdowns are overkill, and won’t tame the virus

The silence of economic graveyards can be very expensive for struggling economies like ours

Sanjeev Ahluwalia

Op/Ed, 24 March 2020. A vegetable vendor pushes his bicycle loaded with vegetables on an empty street during a complete lockdown amid growing concerns of coronavirus in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi on March 24, 2020. Authorities have gradually started to shutdown much of the country to contain the outbreak.

It’s a beautiful, clear, clean night. But the streets are empty. The traffic is sparse, its absence is soothing as compared to the usual nerve-wracking clatter. Houses are full and public spaces sparsely populated.

Cities are blanketed in a pall of apprehension and sobriety, almost village-like, where chudails (witches) lurk around every peepul tree at night in search of the unwary traveller, most unbecoming for the throbbing engines of the economy which urban spaces are meant to be.

Everything lies suspended, watchful and waiting for the next big announcement. The Centre decided earlier this week to impose an all-India lockdown.

It is widely supported. It seems to protect the healthy (the majority) from the infected few by locking everyone into their homes, their communities and towns, like locking up the entire town in jail to protect citizens from criminals.

It is an endgame option. For India it is an overkill.

It simply can’t work without a huge mobilisation of public services to cater to locked-in populations. Workers manning electricity supply, transport, water supply and telecom connectivity need to be able to reach their places of work by navigating the localised lockdowns.

Similarly, goods need to keep moving through the mandis, transport hubs and retail points to reach locked-in people.

In short, the ‘lockdown’ cannot be a curfew, an unfortunate expression chosen by the Prime Minister’s speechwriters, which has stuck in the minds of the public and administrators. A curfew means keeping public spaces clear of all but police movement. This is the last thing we need.

Unnecessary hardship would result. Retail stocks can run dry, prices increase and the hoarding instinct kick in. Why create isolated, tepid ponds of people when you can regulate the river of out-of-home visits. Delhi has a population of 22 million.

About one to two million people would need to come out of their homes daily to buy food, water, medicines, access ATMs, banks or other services.

Online e-commerce is specifically exempted from the lockdown. But it cannot work if misguided or poorly informed policemen stop the delivery agents on the roads. Communities have locked parks to avoid tempting citizens out for a stroll through the greens.

Vigilantes berate people coming out of their homes. All this ignores the basic directive that movement per se is not restricted, unless one is unwell or in quarantine. It is the assembly of five or more people which is banned to avoid over-crowding in public spaces — very necessary in densely packed India.

People are shutting their doors and windows as if the pestilence can waft in to infect them. With the weather turning warm, natural air circulation should be encouraged, not stopped. Completely lost in the raft of guidelines are two simple but important behaviour changing tips.

First, maintain an arms-length distance all around, a virtual penumbra of safety. Second, wear a mask and gloves to shop or to supply.

Desist from the essentially Indian habit of non-essential touching of fruit, vegetables, doorways or each other. Washing the safety gear on return and leaving shoes outside the house, as is traditional in India, are extra precautions.

Economic costs

Doing all the above will not only enhance safety but reduce the economic costs to the minimum.The engines of productivity, factories and offices, should be encouraged to work normally, but under strict health supervision.

Staggered attendance of employees can reduce the transport load and enhance the effective floor space per employee, thereby adhering to social distancing norms.

Factory and shop owners must monitor workers daily as an entry level filter for early isolation of the affected. Markets can employ these facilities on a cooperative scale to reduce the per unit cost.

Quarantine facilities should be contracted in by the government in all towns with large concentrations of factories and service sector units. Think Surat, Jalandhar/Ludhiana or Tirupur, for example.

Rather than taking buses and metros off the roads, it’s better to replicate the spatial distancing guidelines inside them. Regulate access to a metro station and onto a bus.

Put armed marshals at all metro stations, railway stations, trains and buses. Fix the maximum footfall to 50 per cent of the carrying capacity and enforce it. The same goes for air travel.

Employ temporary, paid, young workers to regulate human traffic by thermal sensing at all boarding points, bus stops, metro stations and train stations. It’s equally important to explain to all the inconvenienced travellers why the constraints are necessary.

Make water available at all public toilets along with disinfectant soap to encourage higher handwash standards. This involves 24×7 monitoring of such facilities since piped deliveries are chronically in short supply.

Finally, mobilise the 80,000 students studying to be doctors in 600 medical colleges and another 20,000 students studying to be nurses in 900 nursing colleges, a total of 100,000 budding medical professionals.

They could provide professional leadership in public health education and community counselling whilst putting their skills to practical use in an emergency.

Sadly, governments often believe their job ends by allocating a large chunk of public money. But innovating the public plumbing for managing an emergency is more important.

State governments in Kerala, West Bengal and Delhi are enhancing social protection benefits, Uttar Pradesh is committed to a direct benefits transfer for the poor, several states are arranging for school attendance-based food aid to be given to students and arranging food for destitute pavement dwellers.

Big business advice on what the government should do is along expected lines, direct transfer of income, defer loan repayments, relax liquidity norms, relax the definition for stressed loans and lower interest rates.

Covid-19 management is now eligible tax deduction CSR spend. In return corporates should commit to offer voluntary price reductions, necessary anyway to enhance sales in a downturn.

Covid-19 will be with us for the next four months. We face a policy trade-off between total physical insulation with the downside of massive economic disruption, a possible loss of two percentage points out of an expected annual growth of five per cent in fiscal 2021, plus an overshoot of the fiscal deficit target.

The option is to reduce the economic disruption by keeping the urban value addition engines running and thereby reduce the draft on fiscal resources. Implement evidenced and targeted containment of infection with medically supervised economic continuity.

Silent nights lull one into believing that all is well. But the silence of economic graveyards can be very expensive for struggling economies like ours.

The writer is adviser, Observer Research Foundation

http://www.asianage.com/opinion/columnists/240320/lockdowns-are-overkill-and-wont-tame-the-coronavirus.html