Grief and anger among the Indian diaspora in the United States as the COVID crisis worsens

Grief and anger among the Indian diaspora in the United States as the COVID crisis worsens

Mississippi, United States – Rayees Ahmed Mirza advised his mother Najma, 55, in Hyderabad, South India, to wear a mask and not go out every time he spoke to her on the phone.
From his experience in the United States, the 35-year-old computer scientist from Minnesota knew India’s COVID-19 pandemic was far from over.

On April 15, Mirza had just started working when her cell phone started ringing continuously. He responded and heard the news he dreaded the most.

Her mother had tested positive for COVID-19, had extreme difficulty breathing and her oxygen levels were dropping.

“I was helpless,” Mirza told Al Jazeera. “I gathered forces and made calls for at least five hours straight to find hospitals across Hyderabad to get her admitted, but not all of them had room.

Later, one of the family friends set up a bed at the city’s Medisys Hospital, where doctors immediately put her in an intensive care unit.

Breathless Najma on a hospital bed in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad [Courtesy of Rayees Ahmed Mirza]

Two nights later, doctors informed Mirza that her mother would soon be transferred to a general ward as her health improved.

Then on April 20, the phone rang again, but this time to inform that her mother was no longer.

“It was shocking. Everything changed in three days. It happened so quickly that I couldn’t understand, ”he said.

As the COVID pandemic continues to ravage India with an exponential increase in the number of cases, the 4.2 million members of the Indian diaspora in the United States are stricken with panic, pain and grief.

Almost every day on WhatsApp messages, texts and calls begins with the announcement of someone’s death. Sometimes a close family member or distant relative and sometimes a friend or neighbor.

Relatives react to heat emitted by multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims in a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi [File: Amit Sharma/AP]

Each passing day exacerbates fear of losing someone as heartbreaking images and videos of people struggling to find medical needs – oxygen cylinders, remdesivir injections, hospital beds – and overwhelmed crematoriums and cemeteries flash on. social media and news channels in the United States.

‘I am horrified’

During the first week of April, Sristy Agrawal, 24, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, was preparing for her semester exams when she got a call from her parents who live in the State of Odisha, in eastern India.

His uncle Suresh Agrawal, 50, had died of COVID.

Over the hours and days, Sristy received more and more frantic calls and messages from family members about their positive COVID tests, including Gauri Shankar, her 70-year-old grandfather.

“Nearly 20 family members had tested positive for the virus. But I was more worried about my grandfather because he was too warned and in danger, ”Agrawal told Al Jazeera.

Sristy put her studies aside and sought help from social media posts and websites. For hours, she made dozens of calls to hospitals to get him oxygen and a hospital bed. But all were overwhelmed and beyond their capabilities.

“I saw bad dreams and woke up frequently at night. I dreamed of oxygen cylinders for two days and how I could bring them back to India, ”she said.

She finally got a hospital bed for Shankar, but it was too late. He died of respiratory failure on April 12.

Almost everyone in the Indian Diaspora has a similar story of loss and helplessness.

Modi is solely responsible for this crisis.

Japneet Singh, Sikh American candidate for New York City Council

Pratibha Bhatnagar, an Ayurveda expert from Miami, Florida, lost her cousin to COVID in Varanasi, a city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, also the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi .

Anil Shah, 40, tested positive for COVID on April 15. Within hours, he began to develop severe breathing problems and had to be hospitalized immediately, but couldn’t find a place.

“He was out of breath and needed a ventilator. Everyone in the family made calls, but there weren’t any, ”Bhatnagar told Al Jazeera.

He died the next day, leaving behind his wife and two children. Bhatnagar is devastated.

“He was too young to die. I am horrified, numb and incredulous, ”she said.

Mourning from afar

Many members of the diaspora who have lost loved ones are reluctant to return, given the unpredictable situation of international travel and the risk of contracting the double mutant strain of the virus in India.

So they cry from afar.

When the second wave began in India early last month, at least 30 members of Asad Ansari’s immediate and extended family in the southern Indian states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh tested positive for the coronavirus.

By the end of April, 10 out of 30 had fought and lost battles against COVID in homes and hospitals.

“Almost every phone call from India informed us of a new hospitalization or death in the family. It was terrifying, ”Ansari, 25, an IT professional from Raleigh, North Carolina, told Al Jazeera.

At least 30 members of Asad Ansari’s immediate and extended family in the southern Indian states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have tested positive for the coronavirus [Courtesy of Asad Ansari]

Fearing possible travel restrictions and the risk of contracting the virus, Ansari decided not to travel to India. Instead, he invited all of his siblings and cousins, who live in cities across the United States, to cry in his home.

“Traveling to India meant risking my family’s health here in the United States as well, and you never know when countries will close their borders,” he said. “We all cried together and then prayed for the dead. It’s the only thing we could do.

US President Joe Biden on Friday signed a proclamation restricting travel from India, which barred most non-US citizens traveling from India from entering the United States. The measure entered into force on Tuesday.

Aid to India

As the COVID crisis continues to worsen at home, the Indian diaspora in the United States is trying to help. Many people and organizations have mobilized resources, set up support services and launched fundraising campaigns to send immediate aid to India.

New York-based software engineer Suresh Ediga has created a website with information on COVID-19 resources available across India.

The website includes the names and numbers of oxygen providers, hospitals with intensive care units, doctors who provide online consultations, and organizations delivering food to coronavirus patients.

“Not only in India, but here too, people are desperately looking for information online on how and where to provide COVID-19-related care to family members infected with the coronavirus in their homes,” said Ediga, 44, at Al Jazeera.

On April 22, Rohit Mediratta and his wife Kanika Thakar launched a GoFundMe campaign to purchase much needed oxygen concentrators for hospitals in India. In one week, they raised nearly $ 395,000 to purchase at least 760 devices.

“We were able to purchase 224 oxygen concentrators, 100 of which are expected to reach Delhi on May 2 and the remainder over the next week,” Mediratta, a software engineer in Palo Alto, Calif., Told Al Jazeera.

Rohit Mediratta coordinates medical aid to India from his home in Palo Alto, California [Courtesy of Kanika Thakar]

The couple are currently working with the Save Life Foundation, a New Delhi-based non-profit organization to provide concentrators, bottles and other respiratory care equipment to small hospitals and nursing homes across India.

A charity group led by Indo-American Muslims has set aside $ 1 million to purchase medical supplies, including oxygen concentrators, oximeters, gloves, PPE kits and masks.

“Our main goal right now is to save lives. We are working on different ways to immediately send aid to India, ”said Manzoor Ghori, executive director of Indian Muslim Relief and Charities at Al Jazeera.

“It is a time of mourning and we are all in the same boat,” he added.

Anger against the Modi government

Once a support center for Prime Minister Modi’s government, the Indian diaspora is now filled with growing anger at the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Many say the Indian government claimed victory over COVID too early and used it as a political tool to try to win crucial elections in the state.

“BJP leaders made false statements to people that there was no virus and that they had won the battle,” Agrawal told Al Jazeera.

“Disregarding public health, the government has organized huge political rallies and allowed Hindu religious gatherings. It was suicide.

Japneet Singh, a 25-year-old Sikh American running for New York City Council, lost his uncle to COVID-19 on April 30 in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab state.

Singh blames Modi’s leadership for causing the COVID disaster.

“His failed leadership and irresponsibility across India has propelled the virus to worsen,” he said. “Modi is solely responsible for this crisis.”


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