With the Bihar government, like many others in India, looking to push migrant workers returning to the state into some safe space, Buddhist monks at the international town of Bodh Gaya are wary that their monasteries may be commissioned as ‘quarantine’ centres.
Bihar has been compelled to bring back a large number of stranded people from the state from USA, UK , other European countries and Middle East as well from the rest of India.
Since Bodhgaya airport is the only international airport in Bihar having to handle the large flow of Buddhist pilgrims from East and South-east Asia every year, the state government has decided to bring them back through Bodhgaya.
It is a huge exercise for the administration to put them in quarantine facilities for three weeks before allowing them to go home.
Although, there is no record of COVID 19 infection at Bodhgaya so far, but an impending danger cannot be ruled with migrants returning home from Covid-hit lands through the holy town.
The small township has one central university, few colleges and a good number of hotels and one medical college at Gaya city about 15 Km away from the holy town of Bodhgaya.
The hotel owner’s association is reluctant to give away their hotel rooms to be used as quarantine facilities.
The amount offered by the government is known to be insignificant compared to associated risk of corona virus infection, one of the hotel staffers in a non-star category hotel said on condition of anonymity. They are also concerned about possible damage to their facilities by occupants .
Short of alternatives, the administration is now focusing on the monasteries and Buddhist temples in and around Bodhgaya to turn them into quarantine centres.
There are more than fifty registered Buddhist Temples.
Few international temples having pilgrim’s facility centres are also occupied by the stranded pilgrims of their own country. Moreover, Temples are basically living quarters of the monks and their praying and meditating space. Converting the Temple into quarantine centres will definitely hamper their day to day life apart from putting them into the risk of infection.
On Saturday ( May 16) , the members of International Buddhist Council (IBC) held a meeting at Bodhgaya.
Ven Priyopal Bhikkhu expressed the view that, “the issue of converting the Temples into quarantine centres should be voluntary rather than using the long arm of the law”. In a written letter to the Chief Minister of Bihar, Ven. Pragyadeep Bhikkhu, General Secretary of IBC said:
“Despite of our undergoing strict precautionary measures to prevent the Corona Virus, no we are being ordered to house people who were stranded and arriving at Gaya from different Corona affected countries.”
He further expressed deep concerned about issuing of a circular by the State government saying that implementation of IPC Act 188 would be imposed to any of the monastery in case of non-cooperation to orders. He further mentioned that the rooms of monastery do not meet the SOP guideline issued by the Ministry of Health, Government of India for quarantine purpose. Further, he warns that if any positive case arises in Bodhgaya, it will hamper the incoming tourist flow, which is the main source of income for the government of Bihar state.
As the other monk Ven. Bhrammajhan Bhikkhu pointed out that, “many of these Temples such as Bodhgaya Bharat Bana Bhikkhu Sangha Temple and Meditation Centre, Bangladesh Buddhist Temple and Việt Nam Phật Quốc (Vietnam Buddha Bhumi Vihara), The Royal Wat Thai, etc. have already engaged themselves into charity activities through the distribution of foodstuffs and other essential relief materials”.
Traditionally, the Buddhist monastic community is very much caring and sensitive to the cause of suffering humanity. However, when asked about converting the Temple to quarantine centre, one devotee and layman Buddhist follower, Manotosh Chakma said:
“Not at the cost of disturbing the spiritual life of the monks and the holy serene environment of the monastery. If the government wish, they may put them up at other facilities at University, Colleges, Schools and hotels instead of occupying temples and putting our monks’ lives at risk”.
For the government and administration, this is a tricky issue.
They need to be sensitive about the ripple effects of occupying or converting the International Buddhist Temples into quarantine centres, even if it is for the time being.
These temples and monasteries have been build with financial support of many from East and South-east Asia and elsewhere , for whom Bodhgaya is what Mecca is to Muslims.
“A local domestic Corona Virus management issue may create a larger multiplying effect elsewhere. So, this is a time to act prudently and sensitively for both the local State government and Union Government of India, ” said a foreign monk from a South-east Asian country, much respected by Buddhists all over.Bodhgaya, the spiritual hub of the global Buddhist community remains alive with the footsteps of millions of pilgrims and Buddhist monks from home and abroad.
Sishupal Bodhi adds from Bodh Gaya :
The outbreak of Corona virus has turned this serene peaceful township into an eerie ghostly place. Hustles and bustles of city life now evaporates into stillness as the roads and alleys remains empty.
Every year, Buddha Purnima, the full moon day of Vesak is celebrated with grandeur at Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya that marks Gautama Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.
In 2015 during Buddha Purnima, Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India also participated in a religious congregation with the International Buddhist community under the holy Bodhi tree, the place where Gautama Buddha is known to have achieved his supreme enlightenment. This is the place frequently visited by many head of the States of different Buddhist countries such as Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar, etc. However, due to Corona Virus outbreak, this year on 7 May, during Buddha Purnima no religious congregation was allowed or made possible as an effort to contained the virus and safe life.