BBC News – Tablighi Jamaat: The group blamed for new Covid-19 outbreak in India

The Tablighi Jamaat have come into the spotlight after an event they held in the Indian capital Delhi has spawned a number of Covid-19 clusters across the country. But exactly who is this group and why did they hold a big gathering in Delhi? BBC Hindi’s Zubair Ahmed reports.

Who are the Tablighi Jamaat?

The organisation was founded in 1926 in the northern Indian region of Mewat by prominent Islamic scholar Maulana Mohammed Ilyas Kandhlawi.

Its aim was to inculcate “true” Islam among the “Umma” (Global Islamic community), many Muslims at the time felt that their political and religious identities were being compromised under the British Raj.

The organisation flourished in what was then undivided India. This did not change when the country was partitioned after independence in 1947. It has a strong following in both Pakistan and Bangladesh.

What is its mission?

The Jamaat’s founder, Mohammed Ilyas, once famously said, “Oh Muslims be good Muslims”, and that is in essence, the organisation’s main objective, to promote the ideals of Islam among Muslims.

India event sparks huge hunt for coronavirus cases

Its members claim that it is a non-political organisation which aims to build an Islamic society based on the teachings of the Koran.

The Jamaat sends out delegates to different countries for 40 days a year and sometimes for shorter durations. The preachers believe in person-to-person contact, so they knock on the doors of ordinary Muslims to give them the message of Islam.

What happened in Delhi?

The Delhi conference, an annual event, was inaugurated on 3 March though there are differing accounts of when it may have ended. What is clear is that once it ended many people, including 250 foreigners, chose to stay on.

It is thought that some of them were carrying the Covid-19 infection, that has now been transported across the country.

One of its members, Waseem Ahmed, told BBC Hindi that hundreds of delegates left before the lockdown came into effect on 24 March, but that more than 1,000 followers, including many foreigners, got stranded, as all modes of transport and international flights were cancelled.

Since then, police have cleared out the hostel where these foreign nationals were staying and quarantined them in another location in Delhi. Efforts are now on in every state to trace and test people who were at the event as the number of Covid-19 cases linked to the event steadily rises. On Thursday morning, local media put that number at 389.

How large is the group?

Tablighi Jamaat is now a global religious movement, with followers in more than 80 countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and the US.

The Jamaat has its own headquarters in every country it operates in, but its global spiritual centre remains the Markaz (centre) in Delhi.

This is housed in a multi-storey building in Nizamuddin, a prominently Muslim residential area in Delhi. The Markaz comprises a mosque and dormitories that can accommodate 5,000 people.

The Jamaat also organises big events in other countries.

In Bangladesh, it holds an event called the Biswa Ijtema which is believed to be the second-largest gathering of Muslims in the world after the Haj. The group also has some famous South Asian personalities as its followers.

Some of its more famous followers include members of Pakistan’s national cricket team, including 90s batting stars Shahid Afridi and Inzamam ul-Haq. South African cricketer Hashim Amla is also a follower.

Former Pakistani Presidents, Farooq Legari and Mohammed Rafiq Tarar were also believed to be the followers while former Indian president Dr Zakir Hussain was also associated with the movement.

The Tribune – No religion, no caste, only humanity: Harbhajan Singh on clip of Sikhs distributing food in UK

Yuvraj and Harbhajan paired up with Afridi to help those in need during the pandemic

New Delhi – India, 02 April 2020. Ace India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has reacted to the criticism which he and Yuvraj Singh received for extending support to Shahid Afridis humanitarian work amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, Harbhajan uploaded a video on his Twitter handle showing Sikhs preparing and distributing food to needy in England. “No religion, no cast, only humanity, that’s what it is, stay safe stay home, spread love not hate or virus, let’s pray for every single one, May Waheguru bless us all,” he wrote along with the video.

Earlier, Yuvraj had also said that by asking for help for Shahid Afridi foundation, he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and all he tried was to help people suffering due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I really don’t understand how a message to help the most vulnerable people gets blown out of proportion!

All I tried to achieve through that message was to help people in our own respective countries by providing healthcare, my intention was not to hurt anyone’s feelings,” Yuvraj said in a message posted on his Twitter handle on Wednesday.

“I’m an Indian and I will always bleed blue and will always stand for humanity. Jai Hind,” he added.

Earlier on Tuesday, Yuvraj and Harbhajan Singh paired up with Afridi to help those in need during the pandemic which has claimed thousands of lives across the world.

“These are testing times, it’s time to lookout for each other specially the ones who are less fortunate. Let’s do our bit, I am supporting Shahid Afridi and Shahid Afridi Foundation in this noble initiative of COVID-19. Please donate on,” Yuvraj had tweeted tagging Harbhajan.

Harbhajan had also praised Afridi for the valuable social work he was doing in these trying circumstances.

However, a hashtag #ShameonYuviBhajji started trending on Twitter with users lashing out at the duo for helping Afridi. At the same time, there was also support for the former India all-rounder with #IStandWithYuvi hashtag doing the rounds.

The Indian Express – Afghanistan terror attack: ‘Let the world know that he died protecting the gurdwara, and his Sikh brothers’

Says the family of Mahram Ali Shagasi, the lone Muslim killed in the Afghanistan terror attack, who was shot in the head when he tried to stop the gunman from entering the gurdwara.

Divya Goyal

Ludhiana – Panjab – India, 01 April 2020. As grieving families attended a mass cremation of Sikhs who died in the terror attack at Sri Guru Har Rai Sahib Gurdwara in Kabul, a Muslim family living in Qalai Zaman Khan, nearly an hour’s drive from the gurdwara, buried their only breadwinner, Mahram Ali Shaghasi (43).

On 25 March an Islamic State gunman had stormed into the gurdwara in Shor Bazar and shot dead at least 25 people, including 3-year-old Tanya Kaur.

Mahram, who worked as a security guard cum help at the gurdwara, was the only Muslim killed in the attack. Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, Mahram’s family said he shared an inseparable bond with the Sikh community in Kabul, and was shot dead while trying to stop the gunman from entering the gurdwara.

“My father was a very honest and hardworking man. Even though he was not armed, he used to guard the premises 24×7. That day, as the gunman stormed inside, my father resisted and tried to stop him at the entrance. He was first shot in the shoulder. He fell down, but got up again to put up a fight, but was shot in the head,” said Abdul Wahid (23), Mahram’s younger son.

“An eyewitness met me at the hospital and told us that there were two people standing at the gate, my father and another Sikh man. When the gunman entered, he first shot the Sikh man. He then shot my father…,” added Abdul.

Mahram was aware that his job was risky. “But he loved doing it. He always respected the Sikh community and their faith. He used to say that all Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan are his brothers. He guarded the gurdwara and did other small chores.

He used to say that Sikhs are very innocent, kind and nice people. In fact, he used to come home once a week only and stay at the gurdwara the rest of the week. More than his family, he spent time with Sikhs and served the gurdwara,” said Abdul.

Mahram’s bond with the Sikh community began years ago, when he first started working as a helper at the shop of one Manpal Singh.

“Later, Manpal Singh migrated to India but he did not leave my father unemployed. He was in awe of my father’s honesty and hard work and offered him job at the gurdwara, which he accepted. There are many Sikh shopkeepers here in Kabul who never pick fights with anyone. They are very polite and kind,” said Abdul.

Manpal, an Afghani Sikh who migrated from Kabul to Delhi, said, “He was a very honest and loyal man. I had a cardamom business in Kabul but then the situation there just kept deteriorating due to which I had to migrate to India. I still keep visiting Kabul.

He used to work with me and then I could not have left him unemployed. Seeing his honesty and simplicity, we employed him at the gurdwara. He was a very nice human being, above everything”

Mahram has left behind an aged father Qurban Ali, 75, wife Fariba Gul Rok, 40, and four children — Parwez, 22, Abdul, 23, Murwarid, 24, and Geeta, 19.

“My grandfather is too old to work now. My father was the only earning member in the family and was working hard so his children can study. He earning 12,000 Afghani a month from this job.

My grandfather and mother have been shattered by his death. We do not know what lies ahead for us,” said Abdul, a computer science student.

“We are tired of this terror, bloodshed, killing of innocents, we are tired of everything. My only message to terrorists is that please stop killing innocent people,” he added.

Mahram’s cousin Khairullah Ahmadi, “No local Afghan is against Hindus or Sikhs. They are a part of our country, our brothers. Everyone here likes and respects them a lot but terrorism has made life tough for each and everyone here. This needs to stop. He used to live in the gurdwara and read his namaaz there but he respected Sikhism. He always covered his head when inside.”

Inconsolable, Abdul said all he wants is that the world should remember the sacrifice made by his father and that he never differentiated among people on the basis of religion. “His job was a risky one, he always knew it but he did not step back.

Till the very end of his life, he did his job with utmost dedication. Please let the entire world know that he too died, while doing his duty, while protecting the gurdwara and his Sikhs brothers.”

In an ode to Mahram, Wahid, in his local Dari language said, “Padar ma yak insan sadiq, raastkaar, zahmatkash wa wazifa shinaas bod wa maa ra hamisha ba dars khandan tashweq mikard (My father was an honest, hard-working and conscientious man, and he always encouraged us to study).”

Afghanistan terror attack: Two victims cremated in Ludhiana

The mortal remains of two Afghanistan-based Sikhs, killed in the IS-sponsored terror attack at a gurdwara in Kabul on March 25, were cremated at Daresi cremation ground in Ludhiana Tuesday.

On Monday, the bodies of three Sikh victims, Tian Singh, Jeewan Singh and Shankar Singh had reached Delhi airport from Kabul as their families live in India. While Tian Singh was from Delhi, the other two’s families stayed in Ludhiana.

Both Jeewan Singh and Shankar Singh used to put up carts selling clothes in Kabul. They used to live there but visited India often to meet their families. Their families live in Chhawni Mohalla area of Ludhiana.

Kajal, sister-in-law of Shankar Singh (43), said that he is survived by wife Keemti Kaur and six children, three daughters and three sons. “He used to put up a cloth cart in Kabul. He was the only earning member in his family,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) announced relief of Rs 1 lakh each for both families.

Khajinder Singh, president, Afghan Hindu-Sikh Welfare Society, said, “Tian Singh from Delhi had got Indian citizenship and he got gone to Kabul for sewa at gurdwara. Shankar Singh and Jeewan Singh were still Afghanistan citizens and had Afghan passports.

They were cloth sellers in Kabul. Their families had migrated to India but they were still living there. Both families are financially weak and need help.”

Congress MLA Rakesh Pandey also attended cremation. No relief was announced by the state government till the time of filing of this report.

The Print – Cremate all Covid-19 victims’ bodies, regardless of religion, VHP tells government

VHP terms Nizamuddin Markaz gathering that resulted in the spread of Covid-19 to hundreds ‘shameful’, urges Muslims to close all mosques that are still open.

Neelam Pandey

New Delhi – India, 01 April 2020. The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) has asked the government to cremate the bodies of all those who have died of Covid-19, irrespective of religion.

It has also demanded strict action over the Nizamuddin Markaz incident, in which nearly a hundred Covid-19 cases have been traced back to a three-day gathering organised by the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi in mid-March.

Speaking to ThePrint, Alok Kumar, working president of the VHP, said: “A coronavirus-infected deceased must be mandatorily cremated, irrespective of religious affiliations, to stop the spread of the infection. We have requested the government to look into this.”

Kumar said the VHP has requested the Muslim community to not allow the use of mosques for assembling, which could be a medium through which the corona-virus can spread.

He said while all other religious places have closed voluntarily, the Muslim society should itself come forward and close with immediate effect all the mosques in India that are still open.

The VHP also put out a press release reiterating these points.

The statement comes two days after an uproar in Maharashtra on the same issue, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation commissioner Praveen Pardeshi had put out a circular that bodies of all Covid-19 victims would be cremated irrespective of religion, but had to amend the circular after the state government intervened.

The circular was criticised by Maharashtra minority development minister Nawab Malik of the Nationalist Congress Party, and later, All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who said it was against health ministry guidelines.

The VHP statement termed the Nizamuddin Markaz incident as “shameful” and “unfortunate”, saying it may shatter the 18-day struggle against the novel corona-virus and the achievements of the pan-India lock-down. It also used the word “obstinate” for Muslims insisting on their dead being buried.

“For covering up their unpardonable crime, the Markaz officials are daring to hold the administration and police accountable,” it said of the Nizamuddin incident.

“The entire country is taking all pains and making all kinds of sacrifices to break the chain of Corona (sic) spread. Most of the shrines were closed voluntarily to avoid crowds and make social distancing a success. But some people forcibly insisted to offer Namaz in mosques,” the Hindu body said.

“Similarly, it was obstinately insisted to bury the dead corona victims while everyone knows burial causes the Corona bacteria (sic) to spread rapidly. We appeal to all responsible people of India to motivate their communities to move back from such intransigence and dogmatism. The mindset and mentality will not only hurt the country, they themselves cannot benefit either,” it said.

It added that “instead of taking out these elements hiding in markaz, Mosques and Madarsas, they should be quarantined in those buildings themselves and treated there, so that the pandemic remains confined and curbed there”.

“Those foreign Mullahs and Maulvis with tourist visa who have indulged in the promotion of their religion and fundamentalism, their visas should be cancelled, and strict legal action should be taken against them,” the VHP further said.

Calling out “liberals” for their “silence” on the Nizamuddin incident, it added: “Recently, the so-called secular intellectuals of the country went to places like Shaheen Bagh and supported the protestors and their countrywide violence. Their silence on this development is surprising. Our appeal to them is to use their influence to stop such activities.”

Cremate all Covid-19 victims’ bodies, regardless of religion, VHP tells govt

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.”

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.

Dawn – Punjab allows opening of cattle markets

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 30 March 2020. To maintain meat supply chain during the ongoing lockdown in the province, the Punjab government has allowed functioning of all cattle markets, including the one at Shahpur Kanjran in Lahore.

Since the government in its notification for imposing lock-down on the province had not included the cattle markets among the essential service providers or departments, the deputy commissioners in all the districts of the province had disallowed the cattle markets, that led to shortage of meat in Punjab.

“It impacted Lahore’s Shahpur Kanjran cattle market that was opened on Wednesday after a special permission. But, it received a very small number of animals for sale, resulting in less slaughtering in Lahore and causing meat shortage in the city,” Lahore Division Cattle Market Management Company Manager (Operations) Jazib Saeed told Dawn.

He said it was observed on Wednesday that only cattle traders from nearby towns and villages reached Shahpur Kanjran market on the main day of its operation. So the business volume remained very low, approximately 20 per cent of the usual trade.

“Sufficient number of animals were not available [on Wednesday last] for the butchers to meet the demand. The animal count of small ruminant [goats and sheep] remained 4,100 compared to 20,000 on normal days, while large ruminants number was 1,800 as compared to 9,000 on normal days,” he explained.

Consequently, he said, the animal slaughtering at the Punjab Agriculture and Meat Company (Pamco)-operated slaughterhouse at Shahpur also remained low on Wednesday.

“Keeping in view the situation, the government realised that it may disturb the meat supply chain in the ongoing lockdown, causing problem for the people. That is why it allowed opening of the cattle markets,” Mr Saeed explained.

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.

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 – 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.