India (MNN) — Will India end or extend its current nationwide shut-down? A national shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 24 and is scheduled to end on Tuesday. However, Prime Minister Modi plans to discuss options tomorrow with state leaders before making a final decision.
India’s coronavirus cases more than doubled last week, and the number of new infections continues to rise. At least one state already extended its restrictions through the end of the month. See our global coronavirus coverage here.
Many people live hand-to-mouth in India, and believers want to demonstrate Christ’s love by helping those in need. David Dayalan of Asian Access says the lockdown makes this practically impossible.
“There are millions of poor who, [even though] they might be in their own town or village, they don’t have the resources [they need],” Dayalan says. “Most states have not received very much [financial aid] to help the poor to tide over this lockdown period.”
India’s COVID-19 lockdown
On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a three-week lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people to avert a massive outbreak of coronavirus infections. Businesses closed and transportation shut down; in some cases, police enforced the national restrictions with violence.
Authorities want to slow the spread of COVID-19 because a mass influx of patients would overwhelm India’s dilapidated healthcare system. As described here, the pandemic is revealing years of chronic neglect and low investment. “If it turns into a major epidemic… it can be disastrous,” Dayalan says.
As of 1:30 am local time this morning, there were 6,653 confirmed coronavirus cases and 226 deaths in India. “They’re still trying to figure out ways in which to screen people, and the irony is we don’t have enough kits for screening,” Dayalan says.
“Even the numbers we have might not be accurate because there are millions of people and you have [only a] few thousand kits in each state.”
While intended to protect society by slowing the spread of COVID-19, India’s nationwide lockdown had some negative consequences. One of them put millions of day laborers in India’s megacities at severe risk. Day laborers and their families live each day on the wages they earn. So, when businesses nationwide closed on short notice, the income supporting millions of people vanished.
“Out of sheer panic and fear, all of them decided to go back to their villages; they just decided to start walking hundreds and thousands of kilometers,” Dayalan says. “That was a pathetic sight to see; families with little children and babies [were] just walking.”
A second consequence dealt a severe blow to India’s often-overlooked populations. People at the bottom of India’s social ladder – Dalits, the disabled, slum-dwellers, etc. – often receive Christlike compassion and physical aid from believers. However, the lockdown forced many churches and ministries to stop their caregiving programs.
Thankfully, “there are some states where it’s not very stringent in terms of the lockdown,” Dayalan says. “Some pastors managed to provide for the poor by buying provisions in bulk and distributing it to the poorest sections.”
Pastors and church leaders are also looking to the future, Dayalan adds, and planning ways to help vulnerable people when the lockdown eventually lifts.
How to help
Asian Access is supporting Indian church leaders as they find ways to deliver Gospel hope and help to those in need. You can come alongside their efforts through prayer and financial support.
“[Pray] the Church in India would start looking around and say, ‘Listen, we need to be the community which will bring hope to the hopeless’,” Dayalan requests.
“A lot of people are going through depression, and people are losing hope. Pray that the Church will rise up at this point of time.”
Use this resource from our sister ministry, Prayercast, to guide your prayers for the world during this time of crisis. “Pray that God’s Church would rise above being a consumer Church to a more active Church being light and salt in India,” Dayalan says.
“We’ve become more of a ‘consumer Church’ where we hardly look outside in terms of reaching out to the weakest section… but pray that this will change.”
Header image depicts the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Nityanand Rai, visiting the Coronavirus Quarantine Centre at the ITBP Chhawala Centre in New Delhi. (Photo, caption obtained via Wikimedia Commons)