As the virus engulfs India, the diaspora looks on in despair

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – The bad news, which knows no time zones, reaches a great uproar of messages, calls and publications informing millions of members of the global diaspora in India that another loved one has been ill or has lost the coronavirus.

Sometimes, in the early hours of the morning, a rain of WhatsApp messages appears and sometimes it lands in the middle of the night, as happened to Mohini Gadré’s father. A call at three in the morning at his home in the San Francisco Bay Area let him know that his octogenarian mother, who had tested positive in Bombay, was too weak to do his morning prayers, and he cause a crazy mess to find her in the hospital bed where she was. days.

In the United States, where half of the adult population has received at least one shot of COVID-19, there has been talk of reopening, advancing, and healing. But for American Indians, the daily influx of dark news of “desh,” the homeland, is a total reminder that the pandemic is far from over.

“We’re seeing life slowly start to get back to normal in small ways and you feel like a little bit of hope, like with spring. You know things get better, it’s been a year,” said Gadré, 27. . “And in the meantime, there’s this firebox that has been lit in India.”

More than 4.2 million people, such as Gadré, who make up the Indian diaspora in the United States, according to census estimates, have been horrified as the latest wave of coronavirus burns in India, killing thousands a day. and catapulting the death toll to 200,000, the fourth highest in the world.

In a culture that generally does not distinguish between cousin and sibling, biological aunt, or close friend, family is family. Many American Indians are to blame for coming out of more than a year of isolation while relatives abroad struggle to find vaccines, hospital beds and, fatefully, breathing.

Like India itself, the diaspora is dominated by religion, caste, class, mother tongue, and other factors that continue to divide. But now many of its members are united in frustration and helplessness with little recourse. The State Department has issued a “Do Not Travel” warning for India, citing COVID-19. This leaves families with few options, except to try to organize resources remotely and convince relatives to stay safe.

In the UK, where about 1.4 million Indians live, the government has added India to its “red list” of countries, banning the arrival of anyone from India except citizens and residents of the United Kingdom. This adds to a feeling of isolation and helplessness for many who feel separated from loved ones.

“Apart from raising funds, being generous with donations and going to offer prayers, we can’t do much more right now,” said Yogesh Patel, a spokesman for one of the UK’s largest Hindu temples. “We can’t go comforting family and friends, it’s all happening online.”

Appreciating frustration is the struggle of many in the diaspora to convince family and friends in India to adhere to the basic protocols of social distancing and masking.

The problem is twofold and cultural: a certain generational hierarchy means that the elderly are not inclined to heed the advice of their children, grandchildren or strangers. And misinformation spreads widely through the same social channels that are vital to coordinating aid and bridging the gap between the oceans.

“My father, he was everywhere and I told him, ‘You have to stay home, you have to wear masks,’ but, you know, they don’t listen,” said Ankur Chandra, 38, a consultant with based in New York, whose father is now recovering from COVID-19, alone in an apartment in the Gurugram region, the national capital of India.

Shivani Nath, a Manhattan-based hotel interior designer who was born and raised in New Delhi, offended relatives when she expressed horror instead of congratulating herself on the images of a “traditional Hindu wedding of five days “in the family – without insightful masks.

“My cousin used to say to me,‘ Americans you are so arrogant and look at your own country and you have over 500,000 people who have died. ’And he actually told me, it’s like,‘ Indians have herd immunity. We are born with herd immunity, ”Nath recounted.

Her cousin later apologized, after several wedding attendees were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Vijaya Subrahmanyam, 58, normally travels to India every six months to see her family, including her older sister and 91-year-old mother in Hyderabad, east of Telangana. Due to the pandemic, he has not returned in nearly two years, and his summer plans to visit were rejected on the advice of his own mother.

The same week the Atlanta-based college professor received her second dose of vaccine, her mother and sister tested positive for COVID-19. Her mother had not left her home, but her sister had a two-minute fun at the mall to buy a handbag after taking some medication, and that is where Subrahmanyam suspects she has become infected. .

“Initially, we would say,‘ What’s wrong with you? “But Subrahmanyam realized that her sister probably felt worse than anyone, and acknowledged that she was the one who was still in India, in charge of caring for her mother.

Some of those who feel helpless are also channeling their energies into mutual aid projects.

Anand Chaturvedi, 23, is from Bombay but now works in New York. Coming from a technology background, he volunteered to help with the same websites he himself has used, including an open source site that helps search for virus-related resources.

In Seattle, 58-year-old Sanjay Jejurikar takes advantage of his connections and uses his familiarity with India to connect people with care, from a 75-year-old mentor to young employees of his technology startup educational based in India.

“In India, things are a little chaotic, right?” Said Jejurikar, whose mother died of COVID-19 in July in India. “I mean, on the one hand, they’re very bureaucratic and rule-based, and all of that, which is good. But on the other hand, a lot of people are left on their own device, as if they don’t have any support for it.” .

After losing her grandmother to COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic, Farheen Ali, 23, a Texas graduate student, moved back to Hyderabad in August to help her parents.

Having experienced a pandemic peak and Ramadan in every country, Ali believes one of the biggest differences is the confidence he had that “it won’t go so badly or the system won’t work so badly” in the United States. He also believes he would have been vaccinated at this point if he had stayed in Texas.

While he doesn’t necessarily regret coming to India, the embers of hope are fading: “I don’t think there is confidence in the government or the public that they will try to end this because I still know people. that they don’t want to get vaccinated because of stupid WhatsApp messages or they don’t think the crown is still a thing, even if people die at that rate. “

Associated Press writer Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.





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