03/30/2020, 15.37
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Quarantine India, the tragedy of hundreds of millions of poor. Aid from dioceses

by Nirmala Carvalho

Millions of people made unemployed, return to their villages of origin. Premier Modi apologizes for the difficulties caused by the total blockade. Parishes, dioceses and Christian associations assist migrants, Dalits and refugees. Priest: "They call them 'rat eaters'. Our help is a blessing”.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Dioceses all over India are rushing to respond to the tragedy of the poor, who suffer most from the quarantine imposed across the country to contain the coronavirus infection.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Msgr. Felix Machado, archbishop of Vasai and secretary general of the Indian Episcopal Conference (CBCI), declares: “Over the years, the intensive and extensive network of our Small Christian Communities are serving people.  Our Unit leaders all over India, know the details of the people living in their zones. We also refer to them as Basic Human Communities, as not one is excluded".

The fragile conditions of the poor are causing a humanitarian crisis. The blockade of the country has left millions of people unemployed in the big cities, mostly economic migrants who flocked to cities from rural areas in search of better conditions. The little they earn they send home to families left behind in the villages.

Migrants like Goutam Lal Meena, who earns 400 rupees a day in Gujarat (4.8 euros). Having lost his job, and given the interrupted transport throughout the territory, he returned home on foot, covering about 300 km. Social media, TV channels and newspapers are full of these stories of despair, such as that of a group of textile workers who traveled 500 km from Rahtak (in Haryana) to Kanpur (in Uttar Pradesh).

Faced with this human tragedy, yesterday the prime minister in his weekly radio broadcast, apologized for the difficulties caused by the total blockade, in particular for the poor. However, he added, "there was no other way" to curb the rapid spread of the pandemic. Today the number of infected people has risen to 1,164, the deaths to 30.

Fr. Warner D’Souza, parish priest of the church of St. Jude of Malad and secretary of the Commission for pastoral initiatives of the archdiocese of Mumbai, has launched programs for the most needy of the community.

They include suspending the 𝐜𝐨𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐰𝐞𝐥𝐟𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐟𝐮𝐧𝐝 from families who cannot afford to contribute; reorganizing the budget set aside for the cultural celebrations of the next two months to reserve it for the poor; insuring the payment of the rent to a family in the community of St. Michael who has not been able to pay the installment for seven months.

Archbishop Machado reports that " All our Dalit and Tribals, Migrants of every caste and creed, rendered homeless and jobless due to the lockdown are being taken care of Selflessly , by the Clergy, Religious and Nuns of Vasai Diocese,  Many of them are construction workers, and many have lost their jobs, many travel with their families.  The Church is always a Mother, looking after her children, especially those in need, and in these special times, the Church in India is indeed a Mother, providing for her children in times of need.”

The diocese of Nashik in Maharashtra is also working with migrants and Dalits. Msgr. Lourdes Daniel reports: “All our priests and churches help every person who knocks on our door. Nobody will be left hungry. The Church is for everyone, be they a refuge, a Dalits or tribals without discrimination. The most serious situation is in the Ahmednagar district, where there is a high concentration of poor people."

The social arm of the archdiocese of Nagpur has distributed food to 350 poor migrant families who are stuck in the area and cannot return home. Archbishop Elias Gonsalves says: "My heart is with those who suffer. I ordered the directors of the Nagpur and Amravati associations to start assisting seasonal workers and those employed in brick factories. May the Lord help us to help them."

Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore has started distributing food and temporary shelters for refugees stranded in the archdiocese. He stresses that " we cannot just become sympathetic on-lookers and give them only our lip service, which has no meaning at all! Even if it demands a great sacrifice on our part, we should re-double our efforts". He has outlined a transversal care plan: Christian doctors, nuns and hospitals must take care of the sick and reserve entire wards for the care of the infected; he has converted some Catholic schools for the hospitality of migrants, homeless people and refugees; each parish must involve volunteers to bring food and other goods to the poor of the communities.

In Uttar Pradesh Fr. Anand Mathew of the Indian Missionary Society is coordinating various society interreligious organizations in the province of Varanasi. They distributed 5 kg of rice, 5 kg of wheat flour, half a liter of mustard oil, half kg of lentils, vegetables, soap, salt, masks, bread and biscuits to about 1,000 families from various religious and social categories "The marginalized - he says - the Dalits and the vulnerable are called 'rat eaters' and are forced to feed on grass. This campaign is a blessing for them."

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