Hindu devotees perform water rituals ahead of the Chhath Puja festival in Allahabad in India's Uttar Pradesh state on Nov. 19. (Photo: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP)
A popular festival that usually attracts thousands of people to riverbanks for ritual baths passed off unnoticed on Nov. 20 in New Delhi after a court banned gatherings amid spiraling Covid-19 pandemic cases.
Delhi High Court upheld a government decision not to allow any gatherings in public places when Hindu group Durga Jan Seva Trust challenged the decision of Delhi Disaster Management Authority to cancel Chhath Puja festival gatherings.
The festival, dedicated to the sun god, is also to thank Shashthi Devi, the benefactor and protector of children. It gives thanks for the bounties of life on earth while praying for the granting of certain wishes.
Thousands of people, particularly women, stand on holy rivers, ponds and water bodies early in the morning to worship the rising sun on the festival day. The festival is mostly celebrated in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
An estimated half of New Delhi's 20 million people are migrants from these states, making the festival a major event in the capital.
The trust had sought permission to hold a gathering of 1,000 people for the celebration. But the court said: "In today's day and time, such a petition is belied by the ground reality."
With pandemic cases spreading fast in the city, the court said such a petition had "no merit" to be considered.
Several citizens also said the petition was thoughtless.
"It is ridiculous that some people wanted their festival at the risk of an entire city and thousands of lives. The whole of Europe was locked down during Good Friday and Easter, but no one protested," said Sheetal Mukherjee, a Hindu woman.
She said churches had suspended Sunday Mass in several cities for months. Mumbai resumed Masses only last week. Catholics and Protestants have also advised against receiving Holy Communion directly on the tongue.
"I don't understand why this festival alone should be treated differently," Mukherjee said.
The months of September to December are considered festival season in Delhi as migrant people celebrate various festivals of different religions.
The national capital region has reported more than 90,000 new cases in the past fortnight, with some 100 people dying of Covid-19 each day.
At national level, cases are decreasing from a peak of 90,000 cases to some 40,000 each day. Daily deaths have come down to 400 after reaching more than 1,000 in most of September. Total cases in India have shot up to 8.9 million.
Medical experts say deteriorating air quality because of pollution and annual smog are contributing to the pandemic's spread.