By Suchitra Srinivas
The South Asian Times
Princeton, NJ: As this corona pandemic rages, freezing people’s movement across the globe, thousands of stranded Indians in the US are in a precarious situation. Thanks to the many representations amplified by the social media, the Indian government is announcing a phased evacuation plan.
Some of these stranded folks have lost jobs with H1B visas expiring, others are students with universities closed indefinitely facing fear for their safe stay, some have OPT visas expiring. A few desperate ones have to reach India to perform the last rites of the deceased parents, or to take care of very sick parents.
The desperation and despair has brought many of these people together to form groups to send SOS to the government of India for safe evacuation. The ‘USA to India evacuation flights’ is one such group. Said Michael Khanna, a marketing professional from Dallas who is the admin of the group, “Our Facebook group has grown to 2,000 strong within two weeks.” He needs to send back his ailing mom to India.
Many worry their situation could worsen with more delays. Professionals who have come on a short-term project leaving behind their families in India need to go back. With their project ending, their stay, health and safety are pressing concerns. Students who have come for higher education are stranded with no clarity on if classes will restart in fall.
“I was shocked when our university gave the notice to vacate the dorms,” said Richa Vohra, an 18-year-old ambitious girl from India. “I am completely lost in the pandemic. Running low on money, no family or moral support, no health insurance and living in one of the high-risk zones in shared accommodation… I have to put up with constant fear of exposure to the virus. There are thousands of students like me and we all feel we are not cared for and we request immediate evacuation.”
There are visiting parents with underlying health conditions whose medical attention becomes a huge concern. Ankit Malhotra needs to send back his diabetic father ASAP after losing his mother in November unexpectedly during the parents’ US visit.
For many who had their returns planned in March have running out of medication, some have to apply for extensions of their visas. Bindu Manjunath, who came here in between her cancer treatments to be with her children, needs to be back immediately.
Some feel guilty unable to pay their last respects after losing a parent or loved ones in India. “My mom passed away on April 1. We were not able to perform the last rites and we need to immediately fly back,” grieves Suresh Muthupandi.
The social media groups help offer some emotional support to grapple with the situation. They form task forces to address specific issues like offering guidance to reach local doctors for the refill of prescription medicines, for legal help in applying for visa extension, sharing contacts for teledoc facilities to treat non-COVID emergencies, and raising petitions for evacuation. A list of 400 most deserving cases for evacuation has been sent to all the officials concerned, said Michael Khanna.
The Indian embassy has added web pages asking for details on individuals for immediate evacuation. Hopefully all these stranded Indians will be able to find a safe return back soon.