My Journey out of Lockdown (part 3)

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The final part in Jo Nash’s international lockdown story

The situation on the ground in my adopted home of India was grim, bordering on tragic. Just like Mexicans, most Indians are day labourers who work day to day, live hand to mouth, and depend on a regular flow of informal work and petty trade.

Following Prime Minister Modi’s overnight announcement of lockdown on 24th March 2020, a national internal migration of displaced and hungry day labourers and their families ensued, the largest since partition [1].

The inhabitants of Sunny’s village were forced out of work, off the streets and into their assorted dwellings. You could hardly describe many of these places as homes or houses, as in Old Taridih they are mainly mud huts or make-shift shelters erected on encroached land. These have sprung up around the main Buddhist temple because it is an international hub of trade and hospitality to Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world, especially neighbouring Buddhist countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Korea, China, and Japan.

By July when I spoke to Sunny, his family’s supplies and meagre savings had dried up. His mother had typhoid and needed medicine. They were hungry. I sent what I could for immediate food and medicine but then wrote an email to my old friends informing them of the situation. Many had been to India, some were Buddhists, and many contributed generously. Sunny explained that whatever his family could not spend he wanted to use to help others. So, after the first two months I set up a crowdfunding page for a foodbank in Old Taridih, Bodhgaya and also took direct donations and sent them on. Our COVID poverty relief foodbank began. I advised on nutritional balance in the deliveries, and Sunny coordinated a team of young volunteers on the ground to haggle for lowest prices for bulk produce in the market, portion the food into carrier bags, and deliver it on foot. I asked them to document their activities on short videos and photos and a project began to develop. The idea was I would try and start a formal charity in India once the borders opened and I could visit. To this day, the borders remain closed.

Each week, our beneficiaries have grown in number. We also bought a store of blankets to protect against the cold during winter, and offer hot meals for beggars and street children. In December, some elderly women walked from their villages many kilometres away for a bag of food and blankets. Luckily my friends kept giving, and we have been able to feed the village most weeks until today.

The situation in Old Taridih remains dire due to the lack of international pilgrims, who would normally provide the main source of business and trade for the area. Many working age adults have left in search of work in India’s cities and taken jobs in sweatshops in the quest to survive.

I continue to fund raise and document the situation from Scotland with the help of the volunteers on the ground until I can visit in person. The foodbank has provided many local farmers and traders with an income, has given the young organisers hopes and goals, and relieved extreme hunger for some of the world’s poorest people.

Today, India is heading towards herd immunity [2] and local lockdowns have lifted, although areas dependent on hospitality and tourism remain victims of international border closures. The resulting demographic shifts have depopulated India’s tourist areas and will have significant yet unknown impacts for years, and perhaps decades, to come.

In the west, we have yet to experience the demographic consequences of lockdown, but soon we too will have to reckon with the results of mass unemployment and the destruction of small businesses.

I remain opposed to lockdown and in favour of focused protection for the most vulnerable out of solidarity with those who have lost everything, as they face the despair of an unknowable future.

If you can, please consider donating to the foodbank here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/foodbankbodhgaya

In India, a little goes a long way. A donation of just £2 feeds a family of five for a day. Thank you. 

Sources

[1] Pahwa, N. (2020). India’s stay-at-home order created a migration crisis. Slatehttps://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/05/indias-coronavirus-lockdown-created-a-mass-migration.html 

[2] Argwal, S. (2021). Indians must have no confusion about how we reached impressive Covid herd immunity. The Print https://theprint.in/opinion/indians-must-have-no-confusion-about-how-we-reached-impressive-covid-herd-immunity/591489/

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