743 Employees of Tirupati Temple Test Corona Positive: No Case for Sealing Off?


Tirumala Venkateswara temple in Andhra Pradesh. — PTI file

There is complete silence. Unlike Tablighi headquarters in Nizamuddin which continues to be closed since March-end, the temple continues to allow devotees even after reporting hundreds of covid cases and three deaths.

Shaheen Nazar | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – The famous Lord Venkateswara temple in Tirumala town in Andhra Pradesh, popularly known as Tirupati temple, has emerged as a major Covid-19 hotspot. Media reports say 743 employees of the temple have tested corona positive ever since its gates were reopened to the public on June 11 after three months of lockdown. The reports quoting temple officials also said that two of its staff and one former employee had died of Covid-19.

“Three employees succumbed to the virus and we are giving the best possible arrangements and treatment to all our employees in the Covid centres,” the New Indian Express quoted Anil Kumar Singh, an officer of the temple known officially as Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), as saying.

The figures are alarming. The temple official has talked only of the cases involving its employees. But there is no record of the number of devotees who have come in contact with these employees. Singh said about 2.38 lakh pilgrims from different parts of the country had darshan of Lord Venkateswara in July alone.

India reported a near-record 62,064 new cases of the virus on Monday, according to a government data, taking its total number of cases to more than 2.2 million. Corona cases in the country have been spreading from urban areas to smaller towns and the countryside, where health infrastructure is already overburdened.

The news from Tirumala has raised many eyebrows.

“Curiously, even as Covid-19 cases keep on shooting up, the temple remains open. After the death of a former head priest on July 17, an adviser of the trust and others urged the temple’s authorities to shut for some time. However, the temple continued to allow devotees in. Critics blamed the temple for risking lives so it could keep earning revenue,” writes journalist Shoaib Daniyal in Scroll.in.

He also says that it is difficult to avoid comparing Tirupati to another religious site that emerged as a hotspot early on in the pandemic: the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Delhi.

Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat President Navaid Hamid, too, has raised the same question through a tweet: “743 #TTD staff test positive for Covid-19; 3 dead. Nobody knows about the status of 2.38 lakh devotees who visited TTD. They are not #Jamatis but victims of the deadly virus as the Jamatis were & need prayers of all, not abuses as bigots had hurled on Jamatis.”

The Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Delhi’s Nizamuddin was sealed in late March following allegations that an Ijtima (religious gathering) was the source of spreading the pandemic in India. A hate campaign was launched against Muslims by the national media in which some government agencies also contributed by releasing Tablighi-specific figures of coronavirus cases. They gave the impression as if the pandemic was spreading in India and even internationally because of the Nizamuddin Ijtima which was over much before the lockdown was announced on February 24.

A manhunt was launched to detect anyone who had visited the headquarters. Some Jamaat members were even jailed. Hundreds of Tablighis were rounded up and sent to quarantine centres. Nearly 1,000 foreign nationals belonging to 40 countries who had come to attend the Tablighi Ijtima were detained and booked.

The Nizamuddin headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat continues to be sealed till date. The shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin which was closed along with other religious places has also not been opened.

But the Tirupati temple was reopened. And now, when over 700 cases and three deaths have been reported, there is complete silence. The temple has not been sealed off and there is no such demand from any quarter. No attempt is being made to trace those who have visited the temple during the last one month. It’s a pity that our response to a pandemic is guided by communal considerations.

Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.

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