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    Covid-19 Scare: Keeping faith, from a distance

    Synopsis

    As places of worship as well as therapists impose social distancing norms, avenues to seek mental solace are shrinking.

    Agencies
    A counter at Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai, before it was closed to worshippers.
    Coronavirus

    COVID-19 CASES

    Confirmed
    10,610,883
    Deaths
    152,869
    The fear of contracting Covid-19 along with the sense of isolation due to social distancing is drawing many to seek solace in religion. And it is a massive challenge for those managing churches, temples, gurdwaras and mosques across the country to prevent places of worship from becoming coronavirus transmission points. "Ever since the Maharashtra government announced social distancing rules, I have cancelled all paraliturgical activities - not directly related to religion - at my church. We have introduced mandatory hand-washing for people coming in for prayers and are discouraging large gatherings. The elderly parish members are not coming to church since they are in the high-risk category," says Warner D’Souza, priest-in-charge at St Jude’s Church in Mumbai.

    But to make sure everyone can join the prayers even from home, D’Souza is livestreaming and uploading the daily Mass on Facebook. “While priests will risk their lives to go out and comfort people when there is a need, this is a time to be practical and not put others’ lives at risk by getting together in large groups. Technology is, in fact, also a blessing from God and we are using it to reach out to our church members with prayers,” he says.

    1Agencies
    Devotees sanitising their hands at the Golden Temple in Amritsar

    The Archbishop of Mumbai, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, has also asked all parish priests to discourage large congregations at churches and not hold the Sunday Mass. Instead, he has urged people to pray at home in the Easter season. Gurdwaras, besides being the place of worship for the Sikh community, have often provided food and shelter for people during times of crisis, not just in India but across the world.

    This time, things are different and many gurdwaras in Europe and the US have been forced to close because of the lockdown. For Sikhs and the larger Indian community, this is causing a lot of distress because they do not have access to a space where they would have gone to find peace and pray and offer services in the community kitchens.

    2Agencies

    Area outside Jamia Masjid being disinfected in Srinagar


    Meanwhile, in Delhi, the gurdwaras are open but with increased hygiene practices in place. “We have kept the gurdwaras open because people come here to get strength to fight disease and difficulties and we can’t turn them away. However, we are cleaning all the surfaces that visitors touch such as handrails and are also ensuring people wash their hands with soap before they enter the gurdwara and before they eat the meals at our kitchens. Our staffers have been given gloves, masks and sanitisers and the highest standards of hygiene are being maintained in our kitchens,” says Paramjit Singh Chandok, executive member of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Committee, which manages all the gurdwaras in the state.

    lastyAgencies

    Prayers being offered outside St. Michael Church in Mumbai


    Many small business owners, who are facing economic hardship because of the shutdown, are coming for langar at the gurdwaras, according to Chandok. He also says those who want to find comfort in the daily prayers in difficult times have the option of following live audio kirtans and prayers from different gurdwaras on social media and TV channels.

    While Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai and the Shirdi Saibaba Temple in Shirdi have closed doors to devotees due to the pandemic, the Dakshineswar Kali Temple near Kolkata is taking steps to ensure smaller crowds of devotees. “We are running an awareness campaign about the coronavirus situation through posters all around the temple and audio announcements. We are allowing only 50 people inside the temple premises at a time and ensuring that there is enough distance between individuals. We have also cut short the hours that the temple is open to visitors. The cooking and serving of prasad to devotees inside the temple has been stopped for now,” says Kushal Chowdhury, secretary and trustee of Dakshineswar Kali Temple Trust.

    midAgencies

    On an average, the temple gets 50,000 visitors daily but the numbers are almost 50% lower now. Siddhivinayak Temple is ramping up live darshan and ePuja features on its website for devotees who are stuck at home and want to offer prayers, a spokesperson for the temple said. Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai, which in normal times gets 50,000-60,000 visitors daily, has also been shut for the public. “We are, however, advising people to do the daily mandatory prayers. At the dargah, staff members are following the highest standards of hygiene and the premises are sanitised regularly,” says Mohammed Ahmed Tahir, spokesperson of the dargah trust.

    Difficult Time for Therapists
    Besides its effect on places of worship, the pandemic is also gradually changing the way therapists interact with their patients. They are noting a growing sense of anxiety on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. “Their concerns include facing the stigma for being quarantined for travelling abroad to worries over falling ill and the economic downturn that is likely to follow,” says Hvovi Bhagwagar, a clinical psychologist in Mumbai, who specialises in crisis intervention.

    mid-2Agencies

    Bhagwagar’s clinic in a commercial building in Mumbai had to be shut down in the wake to the coronavirus pandemic. Now with social distancing norms in place across the city, she is speaking to patients on video calls for several hours a day. She says she is particularly concerned about one of her patients — a teenager writing his CBSE Class 12 exams. “He belongs to the most vulnerable group of my patients and I’m concerned about not being able to counsel him face-to-face.” She is also worried about those who suffer from anxiety attacks. “Many of them need to see me for a session as soon as they have a crisis. Others may face lack of privacy issues in their homes during telephonic sessions. Building up trust with my patients, after this gap, will take a long time because they will probably feel that I have let them down. It is not easy for mental health patients to fully understand the concept of social distancing,” says Bhagwagar.
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    1 Comment on this Story

    Jagdip Vaishnav305 days ago
    Our Hon'ble President go on hosting parties.Where is social distancing?
    The Economic Times