The causeway to the Golden Temple, which normaly remains chock-a-block, is seen nearly empty. (Rana Simranjit Singh)
Though is under curfew, devotees have been managing to go through police checkposts to reach the Golden Temple.
Some devotees, though few in number, can be seen moving around in the parikrama of the Golden Temple throughout the day. Others can be seen sitting inside the sanctum sanctorum and listening to Gurbani Kirtan.
The Golden Temple was never officially closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Authorities assumed that the curfew would stop people from coming. But this hasn’t happened.
Two days before the lockdown, on March 22, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh had asked Sikhs to remain in self quarantine and follow government instructions to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
The SGPC has also made special arrangements for 24 hour live telecast of Gurbani Kirtan from the Golden Temple on its Facebook page.
Health department teams are screening devotees at the two entrances of the Golden Temple. Anyone with high fever is not allowed to enter.
The SGPC has also made arrangements to ensure that devotes sanitise their hands 4-5 times within the temple premises.
Most of the people coming to the temple are from Amritsar itself, but there are some who are also coming in from outside.
“Even during Operation Blue Star in 1984, devotees were stuck inside the Golden Temple. If they didn’t stop coming during those troubled times, how can you expect them to stop now? We can understand how difficult it is for devotees to wait for the curfew to get over. But people like me who are living near the Golden Temple are lucky because we can visit it,” said Iqbal Singh.
The temple manager, Jaswinder Singh, said, “There was a negligible rise in the number of devotees on Saturday and Sunday. But on Monday, when the curfew was ordered to be extended till April 14, the numbers were very low. We have also reduced SGPC staff inside the premises and have asked volunteers to reduce their numbers. There are some volunteer teams which serve round the clock at the temple on normal days. We have been taking all precautions suggested by the health department but we cannot ask devotees not to come. Curfew is already in place and technically devotees cannot come.”
Mandeep Singh, who had come to the Golden Temple from Majitha Road, said, “Where there is a will, there is a way. I wanted to visit the Golden Temple because on normal days there is a lot of rush. I take this curfew as an opportunity to visit Darbar Sahib when there will be very few devotees there. I came from Majitha Road on my bike and there was hardly any restriction. I avoided some checkposts by taking alternative routes to the Golden Temple. I was asked to wash my hands repeatedly inside the premises of the temple.”
Volunteers distributing langar in different parts of city have been also visiting the community kitchen of the temple to supply langar to the needy.
Most of these volunteers don’t have curfew pass, but the police allows them to help the poor community.
Amritsar is no stranger to curfew. The city has remained under curfew before, during Operation Blue Star in 1984 and its aftermath. Peace return to the walled city only in the late 90s.
However, its residents can be seen moving around during curfew, especially in the evening. They can be sitting in groups outside their homes, while bikes and cars were seen moving in the narrow lanes of the walled city.
“I have been witness to the times when you never knew when a curfew was going to be imposed. That curfew was different different from the current. In those days, curfew was like a war. You could had been killed for getting out of home. There was always uncertainty in the air,” said 62-year-old Surinder Sharma.
He added, “The purpose of this curfew is totally different. This curfew is to protect us and residents should remain inside their homes. People should respect the restrictions.”
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