400 priests booked in Kerala for flouting Covid-19 protocol
The Kerala police on Thursday booked 400-odd priests including Church of South India (CSI) South Kerala Diocese Bishop Father Dharmaraj Rasalam for allegedly flouting Covid-19 protocol to organise a religious retreat in the hill station of Munnar in Idukki district last month.
The incident was discovered after two priests died of Covid-19 last week and more than 100 participants reportedly tested positive. Some of the reformist groups in the church alleged that a section of priests was forced to attend the retreat after church authorities threatened them with disciplinary action. There were many attempts to hush up the case and most of the infected were shifted to a medical college run by the church along the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border discreetly, they alleged.
A case was registered after a senior revenue official inquired about the incident and found that more than 450 people, a majority of them priests, attended the meet flouting all Covid-19 norms. District collector H Dinesh later asked the police to register a case against them. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had called the incident "unfortunate" on Wednesday.
Church insiders said all norms were flouted during the event and at least 400 priests and others participated in the event organised by CSI Christ Church in Munnar. They said some young priests questioned the timing of the meet but they were threatened with disciplinary action by authorities.
"Photos of the retreat show all Covid-19 norms were flouted. None of them were wearing masks. We alerted some top officials about this but no action was taken then," said Jacob Mathew, a member of the Joint Christian Council, a reformist group. But the church maintained that all precautions were taken and only 28 priests tested positive, not 100. "The event was planned much earlier and we met all norms. Most of the priests were infected weeks after the event," said diocese secretary T T Praveen. But reformists insisted that the event turned out to be a super spreader.
The CSI retreat is the latest religious event to hit the headlines for recklessness during the pandemic. Last year, at the beginning of the first wave, a congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi caused a spike in cases. Last month's massive congregation at the Kumbh Mela also contributed to spike in Covid-19 cases in many northern and central Indian states.