A chronically ill couple under lockdown in India is begging the Australian government to rescue them, saying they “don’t want to die alone” in a Delhi hospital if they contract the coronavirus.
Shyam and Aruna Sardana travelled to Delhi on February 12 for a wedding but have been unable to return home to Sydney.
Like thousands of Australian tourists and expatriates, the pair has been stuck in lockdown since Tuesday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly imposed strict rules and cancelled all flights in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Life under lockdown has been brutal for many locals in India, with residents facing the threat of police beatings and villagers forced to walk hundreds of kilometres to return home.
The poor are starving with nowhere to go, and street crime is reportedly increasing as millions of workers who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus resort to theft to survive.
In recent days Mrs Sardana, 60, was attacked by a pair of masked men on a motorbike who tried to snatch her necklace as she walked to a dentist appointment in Delhi.
“My wife is very stressed and very anxious because we are trapped here without any support and so far from our children,” Mr Sardana said.
“We want the Australian government to make an effort to help us get back home.”
The Sardanas, Australian permanent residents, are just two of hundreds of Australians desperate to return home.
“We have tickets booked for a flight on the second of April and most likely many other Australians have done the same,” Mr Sardana told The New Daily.
“We want the government to negotiate with the Indian government and let that flight leave for Australia.”
‘Australian government drawing dividing lines’
The federal government has already announced repatriation assistance for Australians stuck in other parts of the world.
In India, there’s been no such luck for Australians.
For Sardanas it could be the difference between life and death.
Mrs Sardana has abnormally high blood pressure, while Mr Sardana suffers from a serious heart condition and rheumatoid arthritis.
He has just two weeks’ left of medication.
“We both are high-risk vulnerable people and we will most likely die if we catch COVID-19,” Mr Sardana told The New Daily.
“Public hospitals in Delhi are not equipped to handle a pandemic like COVID-19.
We don’t want to die alone here without being able to say goodbye and giving a kiss on a forehead to our children.’’
The couple is too scared to leave their house for fear of contracting the coronavirus and of Indian police, who have been beating people who breach curfew with bamboo bats.
One of their sons, who lives in Sydney and wishes to remain anonymous to protect his job, told The New Daily he has been lobbying the federal government for help but hasn’t received any answers.
“My biggest fear is getting a call in the middle of the night from someone saying ‘Your parents have COVID-19’ and I won’t be able to get there,” he said.
“If something happens to my parents, we’ll lose our family members, but in my eyes the Australian government will lose its credibility.
“At a time when families need to stick together and support each other, they’re putting down dividing lines.
“If they don’t do anything, they will have blood on their hands if something goes wrong.”
Modi says sorry
India’s population of 1.3 billion people was given less than four hours’ notice that lockdown loomed. Residents and tourists have since been forced to stay indoors under rules to be in place for at least three weeks.
It’s the world’s largest lockdown.
“There will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes … forget what going out means,” Mr Modi told the nation last week.
On Monday morning (Australian time), the PM apologised for the harsh measures while noting their impact on the poor.
“I know some of you will be angry with me,” he said on radio during his scheduled monthly address.
“But these tough measures were needed to win this battle.”