Mumbai: With religious places yet to open, trustees come up with safe-worship ideas

Updated: Jun 28, 2020, 06:44 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

Although places of worship still unsure if they will be allowed to open post June 30, most have guidelines and safety precautions in place

Ervad Kaizad Karkaria, head priest at the Rustom Faramna Agiary in Dadar, says that those not wearing a mask will not be allowed to enter. People will have to sanitise their hands and no more than 20 people will be allowed in the Zoroastrian place of worship at any given time
Ervad Kaizad Karkaria, head priest at the Rustom Faramna Agiary in Dadar, says that those not wearing a mask will not be allowed to enter. People will have to sanitise their hands and no more than 20 people will be allowed in the Zoroastrian place of worship at any given time

Although the state-wide Coronavirus-lockdown is slated to come to an end on June 30, religious institutions such as dargahs, agiaries, churches and temples have not received directives from the state government and are still awaiting the green signal.

Although most of these institutions have made it explicitly clear that they will not reopen unless given a clear go-ahead from the state government, many seem to have strategies in place to combat the spread. Ervad Kaizad Karkaria, head priest at the Rustom Faramna Agiary in Dadar, said, "We have bought sanitiser dispensers which can be used with a pump of the peddle by the foot, as well as thermometer machines that can be used to check people's temperatures. There will be three compulsory rules of admission: You won't be allowed inside if you are not wearing a mask. You will have to sanitise your hands before you enter. And thirdly, we will not allow more than 20 people inside the agiary at any given time, so that we can ensure social distancing is maintained. However, we are not going to reopen unless and until the government announces [the opening of religious spaces]."

'Standard SOPs'
Father Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay, said that no direction has been received from the state government on whether places of worship would be allowed to reopen post-June 30, but said that if given the go-ahead, churches in Mumbai would broadly base their guidelines and safety precautions on the lines of those issued by Cardinal Oswald Gracias (President, CBCI) earlier this month. "Earlier, when the rest of India was opening up, there was a standard operating procedure issued… which will be enforced in Mumbai as well. The SOPs respect the government norms." In June, Cardinal Oswald Gracias had issued a slew of guidelines for churchgoers—these didn't apply to Maharashtra as the state was still under lockdown—which included mandatory use of masks and sanitisers, restricting a church's capacity to one-third, as well as restrictions on the choir.

Father Nigel Barrett and Ervad Kaizad Karkaria
Father Nigel Barrett and Ervad Kaizad Karkaria

Haji Ali Dargah Trustee Sohail Khandwani said, "Our religious scholars have already requested the government that community members should be allowed to offer Friday prayers so long as they take all necessary safety precautions such as social distancing, wearing masks, and sanitising hands. People have not offered the Friday namaz for 14 weeks." He added: "If the go-ahead is given, we have all the necessary arrangements made. We have omimeters, blood pressure machines, sanitiser machines as well as staff who will help spray disinfectant on visitors. Everyone has been trained and equipped—we are just waiting for the green signal." However, when mid-day reached out to Irshad Siddiqui Lakdwala, president of Zakaria Masjid Trust, he said that as of now no guidelines and precautions have been put in place, since they have not received any communication from the government.

A Dawoodi Bohra community spokesperson said: "The entry to all our masjids in the city and a mausoleum in Bhendi Bazaar continue to remain closed until we receive clear guidelines and instructions from the government on what measures to take and how to allow the entry of worshippers."

'Moving darshan'
Aadesh Bandekar, chairman of the Siddhivinayak Ganpati Temple Trust, said that as long as Mumbai remained a red zone, religious places of worship would most likely not be allowed to reopen. "We have been receiving various presentations from different people regarding safety precautions that could be installed here in three to four days. These include identifying spots for conducting thermal screening and other safety precautions that can be taken while entering the temple. Ideas such as conducting a digital darshan have also been floated." He further said that the temple might have to resort to a 'moving darshan.' "Earlier, during darshan, a maximum of 40 people could fit into the main darshan room at one time, but now we can take only a maximum of eight to 10 people," he said.

'Virtual meetings to continue'
On the other hand, the city's Bahai community seems quite comfortable with digital worship. "COVID-19 has necessitated the opening up of a new arena of virtual meetings by government departments, commercial, social and religious organisations," said Sheriar Norreyazdan. "The ban on gatherings has forced Baha'i communities the world over and in India to avail of this facility to organise seminars, study classes for children and youth, prayer programmes in their homes and particularly in their temples. He added: "Meeting and waving at participants online does not promote warm camaraderie. But it is convenient."

Number of days that Siddhivinayak Temple authorities will need to get premises ready for socially distant worship

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