Influential faith leaders from all religions came together in Uttar Pradesh during a multi-faith meeting with state and district faith leaders, to appeal for use of mask and practice of social distancing.

The faith leaders also expressed solidarity for COVID Vijetas who have overcome the disease and appealed to people to support and lend a helping hand to the survivors and their families and avoid any form of discrimination against them. The faith leaders acknowledged the contribution of and thanked all frontline workers in this battle against COVID-19 and appealed to people to felicitate all such people who are risking their lives and working on the front in the battle against the virus.

The webinar was organized by Sphere India, in collaboration with UNICEF, WHO and World Vision India, and partnered with USAID. Over 250 faith leaders and civil society members from 47 districts of Uttar Pradesh participated in the webinar.

Vikrant Mahajan, CEO, Sphere India, said, “In these testing times, the role of faith-based organizations, civil society and religious leaders is vital in bringing communities together. They are integral to the whole of society in the approach to COVID-19 response and recovery.”

Ruth Leano, Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Uttar Pradesh, said, “Faith leaders have always been the greatest advocates for the world’s neediest children and have played a key role in the success of all major immunization campaigns including polio or the recent vaccination drive for Measles and Rubella. The support from faith leaders has always been very heartening in breaking myths among communities for behaviours related to women and children.”

Dr. Ritu Chauhan, National Programme Officer, WHO India, said, “COVID-19 can affect anyone and everyone needs to practice due precautions. Faith leaders and religious institutions play a critical role in preventing stigma and sharing evidence based steps to prevent COVID-19 such as wearing face covers/masks, following respiratory and hand hygiene and maintaining physical distancing.”

Dr Rajendra Kapoor, Director Vector Borne Diseases, Directorate of Medical and Health Services, Government of Uttar Pradesh, said, “Faith Leaders can play a key role in motivating people to follow all the COVID preventive behaviours. They can also inspire people to celebrate festivals at home and not indulge in any activity that can lead to transmission of COVID.”

Faith Leaders can play a crucial role in spreading positive messages among leaders of their own faith and others, and by using festivals, their networks, media channels, to spread mass awareness and address fears by providing credible facts and information about COVID19.

Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi, Deputy Vice Chancellor Darul Uloom, Deoband, said, “COVID-19 is affecting people of all religions and backgrounds alike. We should also stop all kinds of discriminations and help people in need. Every religion teaches us to help poor and needy. Those who can afford must feed the poor and migrants in every possible way they can.”

Shri Tek Narayan Upadhyay, Priest, Kashi Vishwanath temple, said, “All religious places must ensure that COVID preventive behaviours are strictly followed in their premises. Strict monitoring for physical distancing, use of masks etc should be done.”

Father Varghese Kunnath, Regional Director, Interfaith Dialogue and P.R.O. of Archdiocese of Agra, said, “I know many families where people have recovered from COVID-19 but they are yet to cope with the mental trauma and depression. The families still face discrimination by the society and have been boycotted. This creates fear among others and people begin to hide their COVID-19 symptoms and illness. We must discourage such behaviours.”

Baba Pritam Singh, Granthi, Guru Ka Taal Gurudwara in Agra, said, “We have served langar to nearly 10 lakh people and given slippers to nearly 500 migrants. The gurudwara langar is open for people of all religions and backgrounds.” Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahali, Shahi Imaam, Aisghbagh Eidgah said community could play a key role in checking the spread of virus. He said, “We can tell people that they can break the chain of COVID spread if they stay indoors. Religious leaders can motivate the community members to help people in need and not discriminate against the COVID affected people and their families.”

Mahant Devya Giri from Mankameshwar Math, said, “Religious leaders should motivate people through their social media groups to celebrate all those who have defeated COVID-19. Such warriors can be digitally felicitated so that people respect them and do not discriminate against them.”

Sister Radha from Brahm Kumaris, said, “People have been undergoing a lot of anxiety and depression for the last few months. All this is impacting our health. We must stop living in the victim mode and start living in master mode.”

In the concluding remarks, Amit Mehrotra, UNICEF elaborated the way forward actions. He suggested that such plenary sessions should be taken further to the grassroot level, with faith leaders urging their followers to spread the message of peace and brotherhood.

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