India during COVID-19

This year it wasn’t snow or icy roads that closed schools, shut down businesses and kept folks at home. No, COVID-19 did all that with a vengeance. Grandchildren stayed home. Some parents went to work, others waited for the unemployment and stimulus checks.

On Sundays we watched the weekly church service from our lounge chairs and visited over Zoom. In the store, we stared at empty shelves once filled with paper products and signs rationing the sale of soup.

It was not the best of times.

It was not the worst of times. Not from my secure corner of retirement with plenty of food in the pantry and a working vehicle.

It was not the worst of times for most folks in America. Definitely not after I read a report from a couple who work in India with Youth with a Mission. They wrote, “When India entered a state of lockdown on March 24 (the largest lockdown in the world) more than 100 million men and women who had migrated from their rural towns and villages to look for work in big cities and slums such as Dharavi were suddenly left jobless.” Since many sleep where they work, they also were suddenly homeless.

“For these millions it was not simply facing an economic crisis but an existential one as they struggle to put food on their tables. These are the people who earn daily wages, work on a contract basis and have no safety net or personal insurance of any kind. They may not succomb to COVID-19, but they will succomb to lack of access to food and health care.”

In India the government lockdown included the trains many workers used to get home. Stranded, sometimes hundreds of miles from home, with no job and no place to stay, many simply began walking.

Images from across India started to emerge of a mass exodus of people walking hundreds of miles under the scorching sun to reach their hometowns. Lack of public transportation (because it was either unaffordable for many or closed due to the pandemic) forced parents to carry their children or tow them behind on carts or even luggage cases. Stories began to circulate of children dying due to exhaustion and starvation and of fatigued migrants falling asleep on railway tracks and being run over by trains. Others died in road accidents and from extreme exhaustion.

The YWAM people sent pictures of food distribution points set up along the main roads or at the bus stops. Yes, America saw lines forming for food distribution. But it was people waiting in cars to insure social distancing, not folks standing in line after a long day of walking.

Social distancing makes sense and seems easy until I read that many of these Indians live in apartment complexes with whole families crammed into one-room apartments. Locally folks express shock and dismay when they are buying groceries and encounter a maskless person who sneezes.

Consider life in Dharavi, India – one of the largest slums in the world. One million folks live within eight-tenths of a square mile. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Disease runs rampant in the confined, unsanitary conditions. Social distancing to avoid COVID-19 would be impossible in their already tenuous life.

For millions in India, every day is the worst of all times. Catching just a glimpse of the effect of the lockdown for COVID-19 in India really puts the past months into perspective. It really wasn’t the best of all times for us, but it definitely was not the worst of all times.

About jottingjoan

retired former newspaper writer. Many children and grandchildren. One husband.
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