Pune’s flavourless Eid, factored by policies and COVID-19 lockdowns

Sanika Athavale
Sunday, 2 August 2020

From a street bordered by closed shutters, we were led into a dingy room accommodating some men and a few majestic-looking goats. 

From a street bordered by closed shutters, we were led into a dingy room accommodating some men and a few majestic-looking goats. There were also children in the premises flirting with the droopy ears of the sacrificial animal, caressing its necks, and gently kissing its foreheads. The kids’ display of affection was supposed to be an emotional release necessitated by their unguarded souls, before their separation from their playmate of many days.
 
Unlike ordinary ones frequently seen in Indian towns, the goats in the room made heads turn, and eyes widen. Weighing up to 180 kilograms, they were grand, well-maintained, and visibly strong. They had been raised by a family of business people who have been indulging in this trade every year.

The goats, bred to be the ‘precious-somethings of someone’ before the days preceding Eid Al-Adha, were going to be offered as sacrificial meat as per the guiding story of Prophet Ibrahim’s obedience. “It is about being able to give up something that you have nurtured, loved, and cared for,” Abdul Basheer, a local, told Sakal Times while he was on his way home from the morning’s Eid namaaz (prayers). He hails from Kondhwa; an area informally referred to as one of the main centres of Pune’s Muslim community.

He and his friends were seated around a public bench, quiet and low-spirited. Their last festival for the year culminated in ‘lonely prayers’ and ‘limited sacrifices’. With the invisible virus of COVID-19 on the one hand, and the official guidelines on the other, Abdul Basheer and his community from Kondhwa were dismayed by the mechanical celebrations on the day of Bakri Eid.
 
Longed for prayers: An Eid-namaaz like never before

Before we witnessed the grandeur of the sacrificial goats of Kondhwa, we observed the movements on the roads outside. At break of dawn, men of the Muslim faith were seen trotting on the streets, in small groups, with their faces half-covered by masks. Their self-formed clusters of five to ten people made their way into different homes with the hope to recreate the closest thing to a congregational Eid namaaz. This was all being done while keeping the health guidelines of the pandemic in mind.
 
Yet something seemed amiss, they told us later.

The Quran-mandated congregational prayers for the day of Eid Al-Adha could not be organised for matters obvious to all, however, what some rued about was the lack of ‘administrative will’ to explore the possibility of allowing a few tens of people into mosques with a capacity of thousands. “It could have been done in batches overlooked by the officials of law and order,” a youngster, wishing to be unnamed, said.

“The real fun lies in offering namaaz together. The festival is about coming together, offering Eid-prayers, and meeting later,” he continued, “but due to the lockdown, these festivities cannot take place.”

Speaking on the same lines, two trustees of the largest mosque in Kondhwa, Masjid-e-Kausar, informed us that their place of worship has previously fit 5000 people at one go. “Despite that,” they said, “we have kept its gates locked for months.”

“Eid namaaz has been conducted and celebrated as per the guidelines given to us by the government. Most of us have offered our special prayers at home. You can see that no one is here in the mosque despite it being the peak time for prayers,” Mohammed Galib, one of the trustees of Masjid-e-Kausar, said as he pointed at the empty corridors around him.

The masjid’s trust has also deployed security guards for the closed gates and placed notices all around for ensuring compliance. We were told that every mosque in the area had taken similar measures for helping contain the spread of COVID-19. “The people are aware of the government’s rules, and they are obeying it,” Shahabuddin Sheikh, another trustee, stated.

They told us that most of the residents in Kondhwa shifted from Pune, following the construction of this mosque. “It is the wish of every Muslim to live near a mosque. So, when the trust purchased this land in 1972, we saw many families from Pune move to Kondhwa,” Galib detailed.
 
Having said that, there was a palpable sense of sombreness among the people outside. Due to the lockdown and its ‘exclusive’ rules, many could not follow the religious instructions of the festival to their satisfaction, for a second and last time in the year. We were told that some families could not perform the ritualistic sacrifice because of less income. Even though most of their housing choices were based on proximity to a mosque, this year’s ‘celebration’ of Eid Al-Adha was a major departure from the traditional Islamic method of observing the occasion.

Expressing his feelings on this year’s unspirited celebrations, Abid Sayyid, a businessperson maintained that the authorities should have ‘assessed the situation’ before Eid Al-Adha, for the benefit of the Muslim community.

We met Abid Sayyid after we toured Kondhwa’s roads when his relative welcomed us into his shed which was housing the goats.

“The restrictions are most likely being lifted after five days. They could have been lifted a few days before, don’t you think? It would have helped us enjoy our Eid,” the man rued. “What they wish to do on August 5, is what we had to do on August 1. They should have made the provisions for this day too,” he added.

His sharp comments were met with a solemn silence of agreement from the other adults and children in the shed. Probably uncomfortable by the unusual quietness, the goats bleated, and the children then resumed their games.

Lean goat markets: From a million-rupees to no show

“Even though the government had said that they’d allow the goats to cross borders, they did not. The goat traders were halted at the state borders,” Shahabuddin Sheikh said while elaborating on the severe hit goat-farmers have endured in the COVID-19 lockdown.
 
As per his knowledge, poor farmers were badly affected when their goats died at the state’s border after being stopped and refused entry. Shepherds and animal-farmers are also known to have suffered huge losses, as per the trustees of the mosque.

“The incoming bakris (goats) from Rajasthan, Haryana, and Bhopal were stopped at the Maharashtra border, so many died in that process and travel.”

Syed Museb, another businessperson, told us that even though Kondhwa’s goat market has always enjoyed a turnover of millions of rupees, this time the space was hardly visited.

It has been a “karobaar (business) of millions”, and the lively annual market would have visitors from other states as well. However, such visits were not possible nor encouraged in the lockdown called for combating the spread of COVID-19.

In any way, the downer for the community was not the absence of the non-locals but their own new-found financial inabilities. This prevented them from being able to afford trading in the market. “The family that would buy two goats has only bought one, while some haven’t purchased at all,” Mohammed Galib underlined.

With reduced incomes and lost purchasing power, people have not been able to indulge the way they did before. Despite being a million-rupees industry for the Kondhwa region alone, Galib doubted if this time the traders “managed to earn a few hundred thousands” at least.

Back in the shed, a goat akin to the size of a cow, which had been tagged as one of the largest goats in the country, was enjoying its last moments with its fosterers. The brothers of the business family were counting the remaining minutes to the moment of qurbani (sacrifice), when we left being aware that the next round of the festival needed privacy.

We walked out of the shed’s gates to meet with the aged watchman, standing alert in his uniform outside Masjid-e-Kausar. He looked equally dull if not more than the rest of his community’s members. His eyes trained for maintaining security fell upon us when we asked him the time at which he planned to head home for the festival. 

Amused by the query, he looked away and smirked. “Gareebon ki koi Eid nahi” (there is no Eid for the poor), he tiredly muttered and walked away.

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