Although the daily positive figures of Covid-19 have come down to a great extent and are stabilising under 5 per cent, the Manipur government is yet to do away with some of the restrictions with regard to public gatherings, festivals and religious functions as a precaution. This year again, the Sangai Festival which used to attract large numbers of crowds and tourists from far and wide have been deferred, in view of the pandemic. Social gatherings have been allowed subject to the organiser or host ensuring Covid-19 appropriate behaviour like wearing of masks, maintaining physical distance between one another and number of people allowed at such gatherings to be 50 per cent of the capacity, while on the other hand open halls and spaces are preferred for such gatherings. Now, one of the greatest festivals of Manipur Ningol Chakouba is knocking at the door, as well as the Hindu festival Diwali. As such, the Khwairamband Bazar of Imphal would be full to the brim with people flocking to the market to purchase gifts for the married sisters and aunts on the 2nd Day of Hiyangei which falls on November 6. We shall not be talking about extravagance in gifts or otherwise as is the debate every year, but we are concerned of people adhering to Covid-19 appropriate behaviour during such festivals. Law enforcing agencies would have a difficult time and the general public ought to give complete cooperation.
On the other hand, Lord Vishnu has woken up after four months of slumber heralding the beginning of marriage season. Marriage is prohibited during Chaturmas, the period of four months, among the Manipuri Vaishnavs. Religious ceremonies in Manipur essentially means large gatherings or crowds. Manipur is rather known for extravagance during religious functions. Besides the rites of passage functions of birth, marriage and death, the extravagance has extended even to other minor ceremonies also. So, the state government had to restrict the number of attendees in customary religious functions with mandatory permission from district authorities, while advising people to postpone marriages, wherever possible. The period of Chaturmas had helped in warding off the headache. But now, Lord Vishnu has woken up and there is no excuse for postponing marriages. Now the question is how the district administration and police are going to enforce the SOPs in view of the limited number of police personnel as against the expected phenomenal increase of marriage ceremonies during the season. One cannot expect the police to patrol every nook and corner of the state to check and enforce the SOP related to marriage. Everyone expects friends and relatives to be present at the rites of passage ceremonies of their sons and daughters or parents. Many take offence to non-attendance at such ceremonies. As per the custom and long-held tradition in our society, community help in cash or kind during such ceremonies is a must and anyone who does not honour this tradition is shunned by the society.
The real problem lies in blatant violation of SOP during religious ceremonies, more particularly in marriage ceremonies. In Manipur, such ceremonies essentially mean large gatherings or crowds. Two basic issues are the spaces where such ceremonies are held and Covid appropriate behaviour with regard to physical distancing and masking. Besides restricting the number of attendees, the issue of adequate space for adhering to physical distancing should also be addressed. Physical distancing is practically impossible in small spaces like courtyards. So, the location of the ceremony needs to be specified. Then comes the issue of masking oneself in attending such ceremonies. Unlike other ceremonies, the girls and women-folk never cared to mask oneself during marriage ceremonies. Marriage is an occasion where the girls and women-folk get to bask in full glory with beautiful make-up and available fineries including apparel and jewelleries. Rich families even hire professional beauticians for make-up, while the middle class and the poor tend to their own make-up. And, they simply refuse to mask themselves and there is no one to dare them.