A health worker wearing protective gear collects a swab sample from a resident during a Covid-19 screening at a civic clinic in the Dharavi slums in Mumbai on Oct. 12. India's coronavirus cases surged past seven million on Oct. 11. (Photo: Indranil Mukherjee /AFP)
India's commercial capital Mumbai witnessed an unprecedented protest when thousands of Hindus gathered before a popular temple demanding the government remove Covid-19 prohibitions and open worship places across Maharashtra state.
India's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) organized the Oct. 13 protest in front of Siddhivinayak Temple, violating prohibitory orders and Covid-19 protocols of physical distancing. Police arrested several people including a local BJP leader.
"Temples can be kept open with social distancing. Temples are not just places of infusing inner strength" but people also depend on them for an income, said Devendra Fadnavis, the state's former chief minister.
He told media that hundreds of people, such as those who sell flowers, worship materials, tea and snacks in the vicinities of thousands of temples in the state, are now jobless. "Their plight needs to be taken into consideration," he said.
Maharashtra's government continues to keep worship places shut despite the federal government relaxing norms across India, allowing up to 100 people in worship places provided they follow restrictions such as physical distancing and wearing masks.
While the BJP runs the federal government, a regional party-led coalition runs the government in Maharashtra. The BJP is the main opposition to the state government.
"We have a clear stand that if you can open liquor shops, why not temples? Temples should be opened, and that's why BJP staged a protest," said Fadnavis.
The Maharashtra government opened liquor shops and pubs in May with certain restrictions and specific directives to follow social distancing. However, temples and other places of worship are still closed.
Catholic Church people in Maharashtra also supported the idea of opening worship places.
"We want our people to worship in churches. However, it should not be against humanitarian considerations," said Father Emmanuel Kadankavil, vicar general of Kalyan Diocese in the state.
He said the government kept religious places shut after Mumbai witnessed a sudden surge in the number of Covid-19 cases.
"Now, however, the situation has improved, and if the government deems fit, churches and other religious places can be opened in a phased manner," Father Kadankavil told UCA News on Oct. 14
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Mumbai, had asked Catholics in his archdiocese not to rush in opening churches. He wanted them to cooperate with the state government in its fight against the pandemic.
Hindus and the BJP in particular are not happy as Mumbai's popular Siddhivinayak Temple and Shirdi Sai Baba temples across the state are still closed.
In September, Arafat Shaikh, a Muslim and BJP leader, complained that Muslims could not perform their mandatory Friday prayers.
Maharashtra has reported 1.54 million positive Covid-19 cases and 40,514 deaths, while Mumbai city alone has recorded 9,430 deaths.