At least 465 families of daily labourers have been without work, wages, food and shelter for eight months due to the lockdown. Many of them returned to their villages of origin, 1,600 km away. The 196 families that remained in Vasai celebrated the Christmas of Jesus with those who take care of them, not only with food, but also by getting their rights respected.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Sister Sarla Macwan and Goretti Xalxo celebrated Christmas with 196 tribal migrant families from Chotanagpur. The celebration, with songs, prayers and exchange of gifts, took place on Saturday, the day after Christmas.
These families are part of a larger group of 465 migrant families who came to work in Maharashtra from the Chotanagpur plateau, which extends across the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, more than 1,600 km from Mumbai. Unlike the others, they were unable to return to their villages during the lockdown.
On 24 March, the Indian government shut down shops and factories, leaving migrants who worked as daily labourers stranded without money, food and shelter.
Goretti Xalxo and her association, Pahunch, got involve right away to help them by trying to find food and shelter for some 800-900 people.
Whilst the 196 families did not return to their villages of origin, the others made the return journey, covering 1,600 km on foot or on makeshift transportation until they reached Chotanagpur.
“These people have been unemployed for the past eight months,” Goretti Xalxo explained. “All of them are daily labourers. Some work in factories, others on construction sites, still others as domestic help in some homes. Their children are the first generation of learners.”
“Despite all these difficulties, they rejoiced in the birth of Jesus. Faith is much stronger than the pain and suffering they have gone through.” One of them is Julie Barwa, 49, a migrant from Odisha (Orissa).
“Julie works at a packaging company,” Goretti Xalxo said. “Her salary was cut by 30 per cent. All of them are struggling to make ends meet. Yet, no one is asking for help because they are reserved. This is the nature of tribal people; they do not know how to ask.”
“Our role is to empower them, to understand their needs, and to ask that their rights are respected. It is their right to have a decent living, the right to life and to food.”
Goretti Xalxo has been nicknamed a “COVID warrior” for her commitment and help to the victims of the lockdown.
Sister Sarla, a member of Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross, is another “COVID warrior”, but for her work among the sick. She heads St Elizabeth's Hospital, in Malabar Hill.
“As a doctor,” she explained, “I had to face the challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, taking care especially of those who have the worst symptoms.
“COVID patients admitted to hospital are sometimes reluctant to disclose their previous illnesses and this makes treating them more difficult. My faith has helped me a lot, to overcome my fears and the fears of others.”