Stay indoors: India’s faith-based leaders’ message on combating COVID-19


By Raza Naqvi

DELHI, India - In a show of interfaith unity, spiritual leaders from all religious denominations across India came together to address a special webinar on fighting the novel Coronavirus, organised by the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), in partnership with WSSCC and with technical support from UNICEF.

Faith-based leaders presented how their organisations are trying to overcome this crisis and appealed to their followers to not only practice social distancing and avoid leaving their homes but to utilise the time for self-improvement.

We stand together, special focus on marginalised communities

Paramarth Niketan, which is run by Swami Chidanand Saraswati, has been helping thousands of migrants workers who are stranded after a nationwide lockdown was announced. The co-founder of GIWA revealed that food is being distributed to them by volunteers across the country.

Similarly, Caritas India, the development arm of Catholic Churches in India, has been reaching out to slum dwellers and migrant workers. Speaking at the webinar, Father Paul Moonjely, Executive Director of Caritas said that they have been distributing food to them.

“Apart from distributing food materials, we’ve also opened our schools where migrant workers can stay,” said Father Paul.

On 24 March, the government announced a nationwide lockdown and since then marginalised communities, such as migrants workers, have been impacted due to loss of livelihood and lack of food.

Addressing this issue, Dr Rajwant Singh, who represented the Sikh community, said that Gurudwaras across the country are offering their services to migrants.
“We are allowing the migrants to live in Gurudwaras and are running community kitchens round the clock to serve them food. Additionally, we are converting Gurudwaras into isolation wards for medical purposes,” said Dr Singh.

Awareness, service and acknowledgement

Speaking to the WSSCC over the phone, Dr Ven Dhammapiya, General Secretary of International Buddhist Confederation (IBC), said that awareness would help us in overcoming this crisis. He explained that IBC is spreading awareness about Coronavirus so that people are prepared to protect themselves and others.

Speaking about service to humankind, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary-General of GIWA, said that they are offering spaces which can be used for treatment and quarantine of patients.

Maulana Mahmood Madani, General Secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, one of the biggest Muslim organisations in India, added that they are providing food materials to lakh families across India with the help of volunteers. “We are also planning to start sending gifts to people working in the healthcare sector to keep them motivated. They are putting themselves at risk to save us. Awareness, service and acknowledgement will help us battle COVID-19.”

Stay indoors, use the time to enrich yourself and follow health advisories

In the second part of the webinar, Dr Dhammapiya advised that Coronavirus should not be taken lightly and people should maintain social distance to avoid the transmission.
“There shouldn’t be any misconception around Coronavirus, as it won’t see your religion or age before affecting you. People should not participate in any group activity. Those who are bored at their homes should take up meditation or things like reading and painting to relax their minds,” he added.

India reported its first case of Coronavirus on 30 January 2020. In the past few weeks, there has been a spike in cases and the figure has reached 11,439 as of 15 April, according to the World Health Organization. The virus has claimed at least 377 lives in the country at time of writing.

Dr Singh, who participated in the webinar from Washington DC said, “America is one of the worst affected countries at this moment, we’ve lost so many lives here. People in India should learn from this and take full precaution. Any nation’s health system can collapse so it is better to follow health advisories in advance.”

“I would request all the people to stay at their homes because if you’re stepping out, not only you are at risk but the entire nation is. This is the biggest threat the world has ever faced, and we have to defeat Coronavirus together,” said Maulana Madani.

‘God won’t punish you for not visiting religious places’

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati asked the citizens to pray at their homes. She said, “No God of any religion will punish its people for not visiting religious places. God will be happy seeing you at your homes because that way, you are not only saving yourself but the entire community as well.”

Meanwhile, WSSCC India coordinator Vinod Mishra expressed his gratitude to all the religious leaders for coming together to fight this battle against COVID-19. He added, “COVID-19 has affected daily wage earners and migrant workers badly in India. I would request all religious leaders to think about them and help them collectively.”