For all the spirited outcry over the Supreme Court’s directive on Thursday (coram SA Bobde, CJ, Dinesh Maheshwari and AS Bopanna, JJ) to stop the rolling of the chariots in Puri on 23 June, a close reflection does suggest that aversion to consciously take a risk over faith has triumphed over a vigorous faith and a spirited festival ~ the Rath Yatra. True the Rath Yatra has never been stopped for 300 years.
Both the timeline and religious sentiment are bound to provoke sharp reactions. But that ought never to take precedence over a pragmatic response to a matter of public health, tragically the coronavirus pandemic in which more than 12,000 people have perished in the country (and still counting) till Thursday.
In Odisha, the ballooning number of Covid positive cases was only expected to militate against holding the event. Notably, Puri’s court and Collectorate are now what they call “containment zones”. Tragically in a span of close to three months, the sea resort has lost its inbuilt sanctity.
Much as one concedes that the prevailing rage in the sea town is somewhat spontaneous, the people must of necessity realise the judiciary’s compulsion behind not allowing the festival this year. A festival in which hundreds of thousands participate, with many more cheering from the sidelines, ought never to be organised in the season of a dreadful scourge.
However unfortunate the fact that the work of those who craft the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra has gone to waste this year, the moral and material loss must be of lesser moment in the overall construct.
Rightly has Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik remarked in the aftermath of the court ruling that “saving lives is his priority, livelihood comes only next”. He had even mentioned instances of developed nations like the US according precedence to livelihood and facing the consequence in terms of high fatalities.
Odisha had opted to protect lives by deciding early while placing the state under lockdown since 22 March, indeed two days ahead of the Prime Minister’s address to the nation. Furthermore, the state was the first to extend the lockdown. The objective was to try and contain the virus from spreading.
Thursday’s stay order on the Rathyatra ought to be assessed in this perspective. The furore over sentiment and the statewide outrage will die down in due course of time and Odisha will soon realise playing with the lives of people was just not acceptable.
There would almost certainly have been a frightful surge in the number of Covid cases. In a very real sense, the Supreme Court has come to the rescue of Odisha. “Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allow this,” was the concluding observation of the Bench.