The government-imposed quarantine has left hundreds of millions of people unemployed, unable to go home to their villages of origin., “My people are helping India develop and grow,” says Archbishop John Barwa. They “must be treated with respect and dignity. I am waiting for my people to return home to their families.” The diocese has distributed 20,000 food rations to migrants in its territory.
Cuttack Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) – A video with wide circulation in social media shows an appeal to the authorities to do something for the tribal people of Kandhamal (Archdiocese of Cuttack Bhubaneshwar) stuck in Kerala and other parts of the country.
“We are Tribals from Kandhamal, Odisha,” says one of the people in the video. “We are stranded in Ernakulam, Kerala. We are here with our families and small children. Because of the lockdown, we have no work. We are daily labourers. We have no money for anything: no money for food, no money for rent. Please, help us!”
The district of Kandhamal is famous for its tribal community and as the place most affected by the anti-Christian pogroms of 2008. It is also one of the poorest places in the state. Many tribal people have had to emigrate to wealthier parts of India to find work.
As a result of the government-imposed quarantine following the coronavirus outbreak, many businesses have shut down and travel has been halted; hundreds of millions of day labourers have been laid off.
Without money, they cannot buy food or pay for their housing. The government has promised to distribute food and organise migrants’ return to their villages of origin, but this is happening too slowly, increasing the risk of infection in the cities and the problem of hunger.
Through AsiaNews, Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack Bhubaneshwar, has issued his own appeal. "Our beloved people have not yet returned home; they are stranded all over India. Our tribal people are the lost, the least and the last in society. The lockdown is crushing them even more.”
Those from Kandhamal are “our main concern. Our heart hurts. We want them to come home; they are our people . . . They went to other states to work, to serve through their hard work. Our people are precious; they are not treated with dignity.
“The Archdiocese of Cuttack Bhubaneshwar is networking with villages, districts, states, governments to contact our people, get information about their situation, make provision for them of food and shelter, waiting for them to come home safe.”
“My people are low skilled and vulnerable to exploitation, but are valuable labour needed for growth and development in business, industry and factories. My people are helping India develop and grow through their labour. My people must be treated with respect and dignity. I am waiting for my people to return home to their families.”
In addition to asking for the return of its people, the Church in Odisha is committed to helping migrant workers in the state.
“The Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in collaboration with the Railways has distributed over twenty thousand meals to the poor and migrant workers since the lockdown,” said Fr Dibya Parrichar, director of archdiocesan Justice and Peace.
“Construction workers from West Bengal were stranded here, so we have provided [food] rations for their families for over one month,” he explained. “We have created a WhatsApp group, sharing details and information, about daily developments, disseminating government circulars. A group of volunteers was created”.