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Bengal’s lockdown plan for August invites criticism, ridicule

A view of the NSCBI airport wearing a deserted look as the flight operations were suspended during a complete lockdown in Kolkata on July 29, 2020.

A view of the NSCBI airport wearing a deserted look as the flight operations were suspended during a complete lockdown in Kolkata on July 29, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

A confused coronavirus had to file an RTI plea to find out exactly which are the dates in the month of August that West Bengal would observe a complete lockdown. This joke — in Bengali — was being forwarded on WhatsApp on Wednesday, an indication that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s announcement of weekly lockdowns, aimed at breaking the chain of COVID-19, was not only met with criticism but also ridicule.

The announcement of the August dates, rather than being an outcome of a serious deliberation, turned out to be an impromptu one made by Ms. Banerjee during a news conference on Tuesday. She first said all weekends — a total of 10 days — would see a total lockdown. But upon realising that the first Saturday (August 1) coincided with Eid-ul-Adha and the third Saturday (August 15) with Independence Day, she removed August 1 from the list of lockdown dates and shifted the lockdown to be observed on August 15 to August 17. The total number of lockdown dates thus stood at nine.

Late in the night, following a tweet by the Home department of West Bengal, the number stood altered to seven.

“After announcing the State-wide complete lockdown dates, the government has been receiving requests and appeals from different quarters not to observe lockdown on certain dates coinciding with festivals and important community occasions. Respecting the sentiments of the people we are withdrawing complete lockdown announcement for August 2 and August 9,” the department announced.

Even though the department did not specify which “festivals and important community occasions” it had in mind, government officials informally said that August 2 would be an additional holiday for Eid-ul-Adha and was therefore being exempted from lockdown. As for August 9, there seemed to be no clarity on what festival falls on that date, though one official guessed that the exemption could be on the account of World Tribal Day, which is celebrated on that date. West Bengal has a considerable tribal population.

The Home department tweets were met with criticism and ridicule. Many replied that the festivals of their communities — such as Rishi Panchami and Manasa Puja — had been overlooked. The fact that one of the dates marked for lockdown — August 5 — falls midweek also generated some anger on social media, with several people making angry posts about how Ms. Banerjee did not want Hindus to celebrate the ground-breaking ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, which is scheduled to take place on that day.

Many people in West Bengal are of the opinion that if the idea is to break the chain of COVID-19 infections, then it is pointless to have lockdowns on weekends when people are home anyway, and that concessions should not be made for festivals, irrespective of religion, considering that many festivals were not celebrated during the prolonged nationwide lockdown that began in March and ended early June.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2020 7:24:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bengals-lockdown-plan-for-august-invites-criticism-ridicule/article32226085.ece

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