The Government has been accused of following an ‘institutionally racist’ lockdown policy in England which has sacrificed Diwali in favour of Christmas.
Oxford University medicine professor Dr Soham Bandyopadhyay argued it was unfair that people who celebrate Diwali are now not allowed to see family.
The five-day Festival of Lights, which began on November 14, is celebrated by Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist people, of whom there are estimated to be more than 1.6million in the UK.
The holiday this year comes mid-way through England’s second coronavirus lockdown, meaning people cannot meet up with others indoors, nor in groups of more than two outside.
Dr Bandyopadhyay said the UK Government had ‘forbidden’ families from reuniting – university students cannot return home, for example – during a time based on a ‘celebration of relationships between family and friends’.
He said in a letter titled ‘An institutionally racist lockdown policy’ that this could have been avoided if Number 10 had heeded SAGE advice to do a ‘circuit breaker’ around October half term, which scientists were clamouring for it to do at the time.
The Government said it was ‘working closely with faith leaders’ and had kept places of worship open to help religious people cope with the second lockdown.
Diwali is a five-day Festival of Lights, which began on November 14, and is celebrated by Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist people, of whom there are estimated to be more than 1.6million in the UK (stock image)
Dr Bandyopadhyay wrote in prestigious UK medical journal The Lancet: ‘The UK Government’s recent announcement of new national restrictions mentions that university students “should only return home at the end of term for Christmas”.
‘Diwali occurs before Christmas and, more importantly, during term time.
‘In effect, the UK Government has just forbidden a large proportion of minority ethnic university students from returning home in order for Christmas not to be affected.
Dr Soham Bandyopadhyay, medicine expert at the University of Oxford
‘This seems to have been done without much thought about the impact this would have on an already marginalised community.’
Dr Bandyopadhyay implies the same thing would not be done during the Christmas period.
Britain is a majority Christian country, with 59 per cent of the population identifying with the religion, which Dr Bandyopadhyay suggests puts other faiths lower down the priority list.
SAGE WARNED GOVERNMENT LOCAL LOCKDOWNS COULD STIR RACIAL TENSION
Scientific advisory group SAGE warned the British Government in July that poorly thought-out local lockdown policies could stir racial tensions in England.
Bans on home visiting and advanced social distancing rules for people in Leicester and parts of Northern England were confirmed by the Government in late July, just a day before the Muslim festival of Eid.
This meant that many people were banned from visiting their friends and family at one of the most important and social celebrations on the Islamic calendar.
SAGE sub-group SPI-B – a group of behavioural science experts – had warned just days earlier that a move like this could upset already-vulnerable people in ethnic or religious minority groups, The Guardian reported.
It said: ‘Marginalised and/or ethnic minority communities (eg BAME) which are already more susceptible to coronavirus due to wider structural inequalities may also be particularly vulnerable to the effects of local restrictions’.
A director at the race equality think-tank the Runnymede Trust, Dr Zubaida Haque, said the fact that the tougher rules went ahead at the start of five-day Eid was ‘tone deaf’.
She told The Guardian the Government had ‘clearly ignored’ the SPI-B warning and suggested the experts were there for appearances rather than genuine advice.
He said the decision to have a lockdown during November had been taken to protect Christmas, but it had happened at the expense of a non-Christian festival.
But if Downing Street had taken scientists’ advice in September, when experts were calling for a two-week ‘circuit break’ lockdown to slow down the spread of the virus, the current lockdown and its knock-on effects could have been avoided, he said.
He implied the impact on Diwali was not considered as important as the potential impact on Christmas.
Dr Bandyopadhyay added: ‘Controlling Covid-19 is critical, but we must not accept or tolerate policies that aim to do this through racist mechanisms.
‘A more culturally aware policy than the one currently championed by the government is for universities to build timetables that enable visits home and self-isolation time…
‘We must develop policy that limits the spread of Covid-19, allows university students to have an education, and enables families to come together for culturally meaningful events.’
A UK Government spokesperson said: ‘The Government doesn’t take imposing further restrictions lightly but this action is vital in tackling the spread of the virus.
‘Places of worship bring huge solace and comfort to people, especially during this challenging time.
‘That is why they will remain open during this period of new restrictions for private prayer and other vital functions like funerals
‘We continue to work closely with senior faith leaders and the Places of Worship Taskforce, as we have throughout the pandemic.’
Dr Bandyopadhyay argued that another example of ‘institutionally racist remarks and policies’ was Conservative MP Craig Whittaker claiming in July that non-white people in his West Yorkshire constituency weren’t taking the coronavirus seriously enough.
He told LBC radio that people in his area were ‘not taking the pandemic seriously’, the Evening Standard reported.
And when asked whether he meant Muslims, Mr Whittaker said: ‘Of course, and if you look at the areas where we have seen rises and cases, the vast majority – not by any stretch of the imagination all areas – but it is the BAME community that are not taking this seriously enough.’
Dr Bandyopadhyay wrote: ‘This suggests an unwillingness to accept or inability to appreciate the concept of institutional racism.’