The Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) led by Suhas Chakma has opposed the notification of the Bihar Government to turn all the Buddhist monasteries at Bodhgaya already inhabited by monks, caretakers and devotees.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Chakma, a leading Indian human rights activists and a practising Buddhist, urged that this would put the monks, caretakers and devotees to grave danger of Covid infection.
“The Bihar government order for turning the monasteries into quarantine centres for returnees of the Vande Bharat Mission from Bihar puts the monks and others at risk of being infected by COVID-19. The RRAG sought PM Modi’s interventions to avoid the diplomatic embarrassment and ensure safety of the Buddhist monks, caretakers and devotees,” Mr Chakma told the Easternlink.
Bodhgaya is the holiest place of the Buddhists all over the word and large number of foreign monks and devotees reside there.
The Bihar Government vide Circular No. 3751 dated 11.05.20 directed all Buddhist Temples/Monasteries and Buddhist Institutions of Bodhgaya, Gaya to turn them into quarantine centres for 21 days stay of the Indian nationals arriving from abroad.
The Gaya International airport, the only one in the state, will receive at least six flights during the second phase of Vande Bharat mission between May 18 and May 24 and the first flight, AI-0112, is likely to arrive today evening i.e. 18 May.
“Acquiring the Buddhist monasteries would have made sense if they were empty. However, in all monasteries, resident Buddhist monks of Indian and foreign nationals, caretakers and devotees reside. In exceptional cases, a few rooms in a temple may not be occupied but all other rooms are occupied by monks, caretakers and devotees. As everything is in a compound of the temple, there is no possibility for ensuring social distancing and other safety protocols,” said Suhas Chakma, Director of the RRAG.
“Further, these monasteries are not like hotels. These Buddhist monasteries often operate with single kitchen, extremely inadequate sanitation services/cleaning required for quarantine and do not have any housekeeping services as required under the Guidelines for Quarantine Facilities of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,” Chakma told Easternlink.
The Buddhist monasteries listed by the State Authorities as quarantine centres show that Korea Temple has only four rooms but it already has monks/caretakers . ” Therefore, quarantining Vande Bharat Mission returnees who are believed to have been exposed to infection in this monastery amounts to putting the resident monks/caretakers who have not been infected with COVID-19 as yet at serious risks of being infected, thereby defeating the very purpose of quarantine,” stated Mr Chakma.
The notification of the government of Bihar has already been opposed by International Buddhist Council, the apex body all the Buddhist monasteries and institutions at Bodhgaya, in a memorandum to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on 16 May 2020.
“The decision to turn these monasteries already being inhabited by monks, caretakers and devotees is simply illogical – if a COVID-19 patient can be quarantined in a Buddhist temple with four rooms where there are already monks, caretakers and devotees, there is no reason as to why the same person cannot be quarantined in his/her house.” said Mr Chakma.
The Buddhist temples notified as quarantine centres include temples from various countries including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Taiwan, Bangladesh and many other Buddhist dominated countries.
” If any of the foreign national monks are infected, obviously, their diplomatic missions shall have to be notified by the Ministry of External Affairs. India must avoid the diplomatic embarrassment of having to inform the concerned foreign diplomatic missions that the monks of their nationality have been infected by turning the monasteries into quarantine centres,” warned Mr Chakma.
This will have grave impact on Buddhist tourism which sustains Bodh Gaya , as tens of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from South-East, South and East Asia descend on the holy town to offer prayers, meditate and soak in the spirit of the Great Lord Buddha.
“Any Covid infection here may scare away these pilgrims when the lockdown opens. The next Buddhist pilgrim season will be adversely impact in terms of footfall,” said Mrinal Chakma, who runs a Buddhist Tourist Agency “Boudhabhumi Parikrama” from Calcutta.