By Robin Gomes
“In a country where 9 out of 10 workers are employed in the unorganized sector, with no insurance or permanent job or pension,” the closing down of business means no job, no salary, no food and often, no place to stay, said Father Joe Mannath, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), the association of the country’s major superiors.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lockdown order has come under mounting criticism about the lack of adequate planning ahead of the decision.
The order provided no scope and time for the migrants and daily-wage earners to return home to their native towns and villages. Many are stranded in cities along with their families, including small children.
Modi on Sunday asked the nation’s poor to forgive him for the hardship caused, urging people to understand there was no other option.
Immediate need for food, shelter
Fr. Mannath said, “there is also another tragedy or ‘pandemic’ caused by this virus” that calls for an urgent response from the religious of India.
The “immediate cry” of the migrants and daily-wage earners, the Salesian priest said, “is not escaping COVID‐19, but for food and shelter.”
The CRI brings together the heads of congregations and institutes that account for some 115,000 men and women religious. They run a wide network educational institutions, charities and healthcare centres, including hospitals, across India.
As the religious take measures to protect themselves from the virus, Fr Mannath wrote, they should also reach out to the poor, “who, unlike us,” he said, “are truly in a helpless and even desperate situation.”
While the religious have clean, well‐maintained houses with good rooms and much space, good food, medical care, time and space for work, prayer, meals and relaxation, and tremendous financial security,” the Salesian priest said, “many thousands (and millions) in our country do not.”
In this regard, Fr. Mannath mentioned several initiatives already reaching out to the vulnerable people.
With no transport, he said, some religious communities and individual lay volunteers have obtained vehicle permits from the police to bring food and provisions to the needy.
Priests of the Indian Missionary Society are providing food and essentials on a daily basis to 400 stranded people and more than 100 families every day.
Brother Steve Rocha of St. Columba’s School, New Delhi, he pointed out, is trying to feed 4000 vulnerable families.
An emergency – move fast!
“We need to move fast. This is an emergency!” he urged.
“God waits for our response. He is suffering in our suffering brothers and sisters,” Fr. Mannath urged, adding, “Let us move fast, without waiting for perfect or easier conditions.”
“If in each city or locality, the religious can come together and do something,” he said, “we can reach out to many.”
Fr. Mannath urged the religious superiors to share their initiatives, so others can take inspiration from them or join them. He said CRI could also provide financial assistance if needed.
On Saturday, the Archdiocese of Ranchi, in eastern India’s Jharkhand state, appealed to the bishops and religious of India to reach out to the migrants and daily-wage earners from the state left stranded and helpless in others states of the country.
Migration from Jharkhand is the highest from among the states of India.
In India, 47 new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed on Monday, bringing the total to 1,017. The total death toll now stands at 29. However, experts say that the number could be much higher in a country with a dense urban population.