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INTRODUCTION The life- threatening Covid-19 outbreak has led to a pandemonium in India and caused immense uncertainty among people from all sections of society. It is spreading at an alarming rate. The number of people infected with the disease are surging each day. As the situation keeps on deteriorating, the government is compelled to take extreme preventive measures to control the outbreak. These actions have been taken to safeguard the lives of citizens intended at preventing community transmission. However, it has also given rise to some grave concerns that our country has never faced before in the times of peace. This virus is now also attacking the most cherished Fundamental Rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution of India.
The steps taken by the government are putting questions on a whole spectrum of fundamental rights as provided under part III of the Constitution, such as the right to life, freedom of religion. Although it causes curtailing some of fundamental rights still the limitations imposed are not capricious. Therefore, it becomes necessary to look how in the times of pandemic the different measures adopted by the government are in conflict with our fundamental rights.
RIGHT TO RELIGION NOT HIGHER THAN RIGHT TO LIFE: MADRAS HIGH COURT
Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee of the Madras High Court asserted that Right to religion is not higher than right to life, while hearing a PIL moved by Rangarajan Narangam who alleged that religious festivals and rituals that ought to be conducted at Trichy Srirangam Temple from April 2020 onwards, are conducted according to the inclinations of the Hindu religious and charitable endowments department and not conducted as per the sacred text. The Bench which also comprised Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said that if it is feasible to conduct the rituals and functions without compromising on COVID protocol and without permitting outsiders entry to the religious institutions, every effort should to be made to explore how the traditional festivals may be celebrated.
The petitioner urged the court to direct the state government to establish a committee including religious heads to decide the mode and manner in which such functions should be celebrated. When the petition came up for hearing, the court said when the government imposes some restrictions to protect the life and health of the same must be observed.
Chief Justice Banerjee also recalled that the Calcutta High Court's order to curb the use of firecrackers. Further, the court referred to the recently passed orders of the Calcutta High Court to manage the conduct of Durga Puja festivities and rituals so that crowds may be decreased amid Covid-19.
RELIGIOUS FACTORS COMPLICATE INDIA’S COVID-19 RESPONSE
Despite the fact that incredible improvements can be seen in the public healthcare system over the last few years – by eradicating many deadly diseases like polio, tetanus and yaws – India still falls far short of ensuring efficacious public healthcare for all the citizens in the country. The country is preparing itself for hard times in the face of the COVID-19 which continues to cause destruction in different parts of the globe. As of January 8, India has registered 10.4 million positive cases. As the Covid-19 pandemic turns out disastrous it can, in the absence of appropriate and fruitful intervention, probably overwhelm India’s public health infrastructure.
While there is no question that India’s health infrastructure is deficient and needs significant improvements, the real victory of dealing with a pandemic of this scale depends to a large extent upon dealing with certain other religious factors that go far beyond the physical arrangement of health centers, hospitals, and so on. Religious practices, public attitudes and behavior are factors that have a strong impact on the spread of the virus and therefore need significant attention in framing policy measures to curb the crisis.
Unlike many countries that the Covid-19 has affected, the case of India presents distinct concerns owing the complication of its religious functions. These mark the seriousness of the situation that can worsen conditions in the face of a huge community outbreak. All of this reveals the harsh reality of a vulnerable population that can perhaps worsen the situation. Evidently, fighting the pandemic basically requires a comprehensive approach that adequately integrates the infrastructural, religious aspects to prepare us for any crisis. It needs to be deal with good science and right health care.
In this critical point, the situation will have disastrous consequences. When the humankind is fighting against a crisis caused by wild animals, fighting for religion breeding hostility is abominable. Without any dogma, the need of the hour is to focus on the pandemic and concentrate on curbing the deadly virus, rather than being engaged in sprouting the deadly virus of divisiveness in the name of religion, and spreading the magic number game to dazzle.
It can be rightly concluded that many of these steps taken by the Government show that how in exceptional crisis situations, the limitations on fundamental rights such as, freedom to profess religion can all be held reasonable. The state is vested with more important duty, i.e. duty to ensure right to life of the citizens. What needs to be ensured is the thing that such measures adopted by the government, restricting the fundamental rights shall not remain in force after the pandemic gets over.