At a time when many experts are warning of a surge in coronavirus cases in the coming months, local governments have decided to implement a partial lockdown within their territories. The major economic cities of Nepal such as Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Biratnagar, Birgunj and Butwal are under a partial lockdown, allowing the movement of only essential vehicles, as opposed to the complete lockdown that was implemented between March 24 and July 21.
Although local bodies are working hard to tackle Covid-19, everything ultimately boils down to whether the public is also following social distancing practices and adhering to regulations implemented by the government. However, with some of the major festivals of Nepal nearing close, the public’s perseverance through this pandemic is bound to be tested.
Festivals are an integral part of Nepali culture and society, and some of Nepal’s major celebrations will begin starting the first week of Bhadra with Haritalika Teej, closely followed by Dashain and Tihar. Together, these festivals take up around three months of the Nepali calendar.
In Nepal, festivals such as Teej, Dashain, and Tihar all include social activities such as dancing in groups, going to fairs, visiting relatives, and eating and drinking with families and friends. As joyous as it sounds, such social gatherings are unfortunately a perfect scenario to spread coronavirus at the community level. Therefore, religious gatherings should not be held at the risk of the public’s safety.
Just a week and a half ago, the festival of Gaijatra was celebrated in the Kathmandu Valley and various other parts of the country. Although precautions such as wearing masks were taken by the people gathered there, physical contact was hard to avoid. With many Nepali festivals signifying familial closeness, it will surely be difficult to follow the recommendation of always being 6 feet apart from each other in the upcoming festivals.
Even a cultural city like Bhaktapur, which is believed to celebrate various rituals every day, has postponed its religious activities due to the gravity of the pandemic. “We have already postponed Biska Jatra,” said Sunil Prajapati, the Mayor of Bhaktapur Municipality, in an interview with the Kathmandu Post.” “We are also planning on postponing all the upcoming Jatras in view of the pandemic.” Having taken such measures, Bhaktapur has been more successful in tackling the Covid-19 than its neighbors, Kathmandu and Lalitpur. As such, the entire country should learn from the example that Bhaktapur has set.
Nepali festivals are an exhilarating time for children especially, and it can be a challenge to confine them within the walls of a house for long periods of time. Nevertheless, children should not be allowed to go out and play as all of them face an equal threat of coming in contact with the virus. And if they are infected, they are likely to carelessly transmit the virus to others around them. Due to their weak immune systems, children are also more likely to die from the virus.
Nepali festivals also involve elderly people, especially during Dashain, where the younger members of the household look forward to receiving blessings from their elders. Unfortunately, the majority of the elder population in Nepal is illiterate. As such, they are unable to comprehend the seriousness of the pandemic and are likely to push for the celebration of the festivals, as they have been traditionally doing in their lifetimes. For these reasons, the more educated members of the families should be able to explain the potential risks of the virus to their elders.
As Home Minister Ram Bahadur stated in a response to a question raised by the National News agency, “only with civic awareness can we properly prevent corona infection.”
Hence, the next three months are going to be challenging and testing times for Nepalis as individuals and also as citizens of the country. It will take perseverance from the people and proper regulations from the government to get through this pandemic with as few fatalities as possible. It is up to the people now to decide the fate of their families and the fate of their country.
Aashish Sunar is a Sub-Editor and writer for Kathmandu Pati English covering issues on politics, marginalized communities, international relations, economics, and sports. He is pursuing his undergraduate degree in International Studies and Economics at Soka University of America. He tweets @imAashishSunar.