The annual Divali celebration hosted by the Tobago Hindu Society has been cancelled for the first time in 28 years.
Organiser Pulwaty Beepath told Newsday on Tuesday the decision was made after she and some members of her family contracted the virus over two months ago. She said the cancellation was not only because of covid19 restrictions but also the stigma attached to the virus.
Last month Health Secretary Tracy Davidson-Celestine urged Tobagonians not to discriminate against people who have recovered from the virus.
Davidson-Celestine said in a media briefing, "I want to use this opportunity to remind members of the public, wherever you are, that again, there is no shame, no stigma to be attached to those persons who have since tested positive with covid19 and especially those who have since recovered.
“I remind you that we are basically fighting an invisible monster and a monster that does not respect anyone of us regardless of age, gender, standard of living or any of those circumstances."
Instead of the customary religious and cultural function at Gulf City Mall, Lowlands, Beepath said her family will hold prayers at home.
She said, "Everybody knows the Beepath family tested positive for the covid19, so they would try to avoid coming. You know how it is with people not wanting to come because they know you had the virus.
"So what our family decided to do was to cook some food, light deyas and have a prayers."
She said she had severe symptoms, but is grateful that her condition didn't turn critical.
"We were treated well at the hospital, and I must commend the Tobago Regional Health Authority for this. But we still keeping our celebrations amongst ourselves, because once somebody knows you are a victim of the virus, no one will come by you."
She said another reason the event was called off is because most of the cultural groups that perform in the event are from Trinidad. Calling off the event would also reduce the possibility of transmission.
"The pundit and others have to come from Trinidad and the number of people we can have at the event has to be limited, so the executive decided we should cancel.
"This was challenging for us. We have been celebrating this since 1992 in Tobago. This is the first time in 27 (in fact 28) years the event was cancelled. It's an event that Hindus in Tobago looked forward to."
Normally the Tobago Hindu Society would host an activity-packed event with multiple guest performers. It would include a puja, song and dance along with remarks from the THA and the Hindu Society. Over the years the event was attended by the Indian High Commissioner, the Tobago business community, the public and members of the THA.
Beepath said she is saddened by the impact the virus has had on the Hindu community in Tobago, and particularly the construction of the island's first Hindu temple. In 2014 the THA granted the Tobago Hindu Society four lots of land in Signal Hill for the mandir.
For Beepath, 64, a place of worship in Tobago for Hindus has been a dream since she moved to the island 33 years ago, which was expected to become a reality this year.
The start of construction was scheduled for November 22. But because of covid19 restrictions, it was postponed to January 2021.
But Beepath said, "I still want to wish the Hindu community a happy Divali and I hope we all remain strong during this time."