By Robin Gomes
“We write to you as pastors from Jharkhand whose people have been serving often in very humble but faithful ways throughout our country,” Church leaders of the Archdiocese of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, appealed on Saturday.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24 March ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, limiting the movement of the country’s 1.3 billion population as a preventive measure against the spread of the Covid-19.
The lockdown that followed a 14-hour voluntary public curfew on March 22, caught millions of migrants and daily wage earners off guard, leaving them no time to return home.
Stranded in lockdown
“These are difficult times and even as we live in lockdown and make every attempt to keep ourselves safe, thousands of migrants are stuck where they are, not knowing where to go or have hit the road with their families and children without transport, monetary means or alimentary provisions,” said the appeal signed by Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi and Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas.
Like Mary and Joseph with ‘no place’
The bishops noted that many of the stranded migrants who are in trouble are from Jharkhand. “While we are all worried about our own safety,,” they said, “these poor people are the ones suffering the brunt the most.”
“Many have become like Mary and Joseph with ‘no place’”, the bishops said, adding, “the darkness faced by these migrant populations is much thicker and distressing than ours”.
Many “are trying to come back to their homes because they have now become a burden to people they were serving, sometimes with very less incomes.”
Care, concern and safety
Ranchi Archdiocese suggested several ways of how the Church in the rest of the country can help stranded migrants. It can advise people to treat all migrants, irrespective of religion, language or group with “care and concern”. Local Churches can lobby with state governments and local administrations “to identify and help these poor people”.
While the affected migrants need shelters, accommodation, meals and clothing, their families back home need to be contacted, assuring they are safe.
Keeping these migrants “safe is important for staying safe” the bishops said, noting, “if these people become exposed to Covid-19, the rest of the country will be even more vulnerable”.