Fear breeds faith in the unknown.
As the novel coronavirus spreads unimaginable distress worldwide, Indians in Assam, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh have found a new god in Corona ma, a deity of sickness.
Why is the emergence of Corona ma disappointing for the rationalist, yet, highly predictable?
Science turns into a mute spectator whenever God becomes a part of the big picture. In a nation with a billion-plus population, blind trust in the divine is more common than poverty.
Worshippers of Corona ma must be sure that worship is the only solution in the absence of a reliable vaccine.
Most of them probably don’t know that the search for one such vaccine is on.
Corona ma is not the first deity of sickness.
Shitala Mata was conceived as a deity who could cure smallpox.
In parts of Bengal, Muslims worshipped a deity of cholera and named it Ola Bibi.
Hindus did the same and called it Olai Chandi.
Add Raktavati (the goddess of infections related to blood) and Corona ma, and it is clear many believe that God protects the worshipper from the risk of being infected by a lethal disease.
In Darrang district and Biswanath Chariali in Assam – and also in Guwahati – men and women have been spotted performing Corona devi puja in temples, rivers and under trees.
One worshipper has reportedly said that after the puja comes to an end, a wind shall blow and finish the virus. From where did the speaker get this information? That question doesn’t have an answer.
The most visible consequence of such activities is the disappearance of social distancing. That is a cause for alarm for everybody except worshippers, who must be sure that the virus cannot infect them if they offer prayers to the goddess with utmost sincerity.
Assam is not the only state where people have started worshipping the deity. In Jharkhand, women prayed under trees with sindoor, sweetmeats and flowers in Dhanbad, Ranchi and Jamshedpur.
In Uttar Pradesh, women in some villages in Captanganj, Tumkuhiraj, Hata and Kasia and Khadda tehsil in Kushinagar district offered prayers to Corona mai. IANS reported that some women dug a pit in a field, filled it with water and offered nine laddoos and nine cloves to the deity. As the number of Covid-19 victims increases, be prepared to read more such stories from time to time.
Controversial intellectual Christopher Hitchens had famously said, “The cause of my life has been to oppose superstition. It’s a battle you can’t hope to win – it’s a battle that’s going to go on forever. It’s part of the human condition.” Nobody could have said that better.
Manufacturing a deity is the outcome of trust in the power of the unknown that thrives on adversities. It is also the response of the worst-hit section of India’s population that finds itself in deep trouble. Grappling with many concerns, the only certainty they know of is that their problems will multiply if the virus isn’t tamed soon.
Living and working in stressful times, doctors and healthcare support staff have responded to the menace with exemplary dedication. That said, the establishment needs to do a lot more to create more resources, which starts with having better testing facilities and also enough beds both for the patients at present and more of them in the near future. Considering the magnitude of the problem, what India now has is woefully inadequate.
As the pandemic finds more victims, the reasonably privileged are failing to get appropriate treatment on numerous occasions.
The struggle for the poor is infinitely tougher. Somewhere deep within, many of them believe that they will be unable to get a doctor if they fall sick, leading to loss of life without medical attention.
Two factors have led to the birth of Corona ma: blind faith and the fear of experiencing the ultimate tragedy of death.
The ma will lose her relevance someday, but that will happen long after the worst is over.
Biswadeep Ghosh is an author and freelance journalist and can be reached at [email protected]