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Religious heads in Kerala want temples, mosques, churches to open in a staggered manner

PUBLISHED ON MAY 18, 2020 12:21 PM IST

Thiruvananthapuram: Several heads of shrines, cutting across religious lines, in Kerala have written to the state government seeking its permission to open temples, mosques and churches in a staggered manner in view of the lockdown restrictions that were imposed since end-March to contain the spread of the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.

They have reached out to the state government amid a growing cash crunch, as devotees are staying away from the places of worship due to the pandemic.

However, the Centre’s announcement to impose lockdown 4:0, which has come into effect from Monday and will be enforced till May 31, has further disappointed the shrine heads.

The Centre’s directive has barred gatherings in all places of worship in the state, like the rest of the country.

Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, wrote to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Sunday seeking permission to open Christian religious centres to conduct daily ceremonies with the faithful in a restricted manner.

The All India Imam Council has also approached the government. The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which runs 2,000-odd temples in south and central Kerala, including the hill shrine Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district, has urged the state government to at least allow devotees, who want to make significant offerings.

“Many are devoid of spiritual support these days. If the lockdown continues, it’ll lead to a growing psychological conflict. No one will be able to prevent such consequences. Churches must be allowed to open in a restricted manner. Religious ceremonies are essential for a believer for solace and inner peace,” said Cardinal Alencherry.

The Syro-Malabar church, which runs thousands of educational institutions, hospitals and other charitable establishments in Kerala, the aftershocks of lockdown restrictions are deeper, as it is struggling to meet the expenses required for both institutional upkeep and payment of staff salaries.

Though the church introduced virtual offerings they failed to attract believers, say insiders.

The Muslim bodies stand divided over the lockdown norms.

The All India Imam Council has written to CM Vijayan, urging him to open mosques in a limited manner. Samastha Kerala Sunni Federation leader Basheer Faizy Deshamangalam in a social media post commented that it is unfair to keep mosques closed when liquor stores and other establishments are allowed to open.

But many within the community don’t share Deshamangalam’s views. “We need to apply our minds. It’s painful that all mosques are closed during the holy month of Ramzan. It’d be difficult to maintain social distancing norms if the mosques are opened,” said a senior Indian Union of Muslim League (IUML) leader.

The TDB had introduced an online facility for major offerings in 27 prominent shrines across the state, which met a lukewarm response. Now, the board plans to urge the government to allow ‘darshan’ for those who book significant offerings online.

The TDB had warned its 3,500-odd employees that monthly salary would be a luxury if the prevailing situation persists.

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