India’s coronavirus lockdown exposes millions to hunger, homelessness

Hordes of migrant workers scrambling for transport to their villages at Anand Vihar bus station in New Delhi. Many, unable to get seats, walk on foot. (AN photo)
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Updated 31 March 2020

India’s coronavirus lockdown exposes millions to hunger, homelessness

  • According to media reports, at least 22 workers have already died while trying to make their way back home

PATNA: Kavita and her two-year-old son are walking along a national highway from the suburbs of New Delhi to their home in Kannauj in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, some 450 km away.
 She is not alone. Thousands of other migrant laborers have also embarked on long journeys to return to their hometowns across India.
“Our sustenance was dependent on the daily wages me and my husband were earning. Once the factory shut down after the announcement of the lockdown, there was no other option but to head home,” said the 30-year-old who was employed at a shoe manufacture in Noida, on the outskirts of the capital.
The unprecedented migration follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which came into effect on March 25, rendering many daily-wage workers jobless and homeless as businesses shut down.
“The government announced the lockdown suddenly and did not plan how poor people like us would survive such an extreme measure without any support,” Kavita told Arab News.
Most of them have no other option but to travel on foot. While some buses are still operating, very few are lucky to get a seat. The railways have been suspended until at least April 14.
Ranveer Singh, who was walking home from Delhi to Morena in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, died of exhaustion on Friday, 100 km from his destination.
The 38-year-old father of three worked as a delivery boy in Delhi and he was left on his own when the lockdown started.
“My father was desperate to return. Circumstances were such that he could not stay in Delhi,” Singh’s 13-year-old daughter Pinky told Arab News.
According to media reports, at least 22 workers have already died while trying to make their way back home.
“The Modi regime is responsible and culpable for this. This is not incompetence, this is criminal neglect,” Delhi-based lawyer and activist, Vrinda Grover, said.
According to government data, at least 40 million people have been working away from their hometowns in different places across India. Most of them come from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Situation of migrant laborers is ‘under control,’ says Home Ministry.

• 40 million people have been working away from their hometowns in different places across India.

To stop the current exodus, the central government on Sunday asked state administrations to seal their borders and provide food and shelter to make migrant workers stay where they are. Those who return to their homes should be quarantined for 14 days.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi justified the tough decision and apologized for “the hardship faced by people.”
“But looking at the world, this looks like the only option,” he said on Sunday.
According to Dr. Arvind Kumar, of Delhi-based Sir Gangaram Hospital, the lockdown is “an emergency measure and it should be followed strictly. Mixing of the population raises the fear of the escalation of virus.”
But how the measures have been introduced has attracted criticism.
“The way things have been managed, with thousands of migrant workers allowed to migrate to their areas, defeats the whole purpose of the lockdown,” social activist, Harsh Mander, told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Home Affairs Ministry Joint Secretary Punya Salila Srivastava told reporters on Monday that the situation of migrant laborers was “under control.”
“We are working on providing all the facilities to the workers at a war-footing level,” she said.
Many argue, however, that neither control nor clear policy have been in place.  
According to Prof. Apoorvanand, of the University of Delhi, the government’s planning and the prime minister’s recent speeches are “aimed at assuaging the sentiments of the middle class.”
“It demonstrates the policy mindset and the conscience of the government, which does not count the marginalized sections of the society even at the time of national crisis,” he said.
“This also shows sheer incompetence and lack of foresight and policy on the part of the government before announcing the lockdown.”


McCann family seeks closure as Germany presumes Madeleine is dead

Updated 28 min 38 sec ago

McCann family seeks closure as Germany presumes Madeleine is dead

  • Madeleine McCann was three at the time of her disappearance in May 2007

LONDON: The family of missing British girl Madeleine McCann is seeking answers in the case after a key suspect was identified in Germany and as authorities there said Thursday they believe she is dead.
McCann was 3 at the time of her disappearance in May 2007 while she was on vacation with her family in Portugal.
UK and German authorities haven’t named the suspect but said he is 43 and currently in prison in Germany for another crime, and that he was in and around the Praia da Luz resort area on the Algarve coast at the time McCann disappeared. Though numerous suspects have come to light in the case previously, McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell said that it seems as if there is something different this time.
“In more than 13 years of working with the family I can’t recall the police being so specific about an individual,” Mitchell told Sky News. “He is not being named and the police are quite adamant they are not going to do that, certainly not yet, but they want very specific details around his movement in 2007, even down to phone calls he received the night before Madeleine went missing and the fact he changed the registration of his car the day after.”
Hans Christian Wolters, a prosecutor in Braunschweig, Germany, told reporters investigators are operating on the assumption that McCann is dead.
“In connection with the disappearance of the then 3-year-old British girl Madeleine Beth McCann on May 3, 2007 from an apartment complex in Praia da Luz in Portugal, Braunschweig prosecutors are investigating a 43-year-old German citizen on suspicion of murder,” he told reporters.
“You can infer from that we assume the girl is dead.”
The long-running case of McCann, who vanished shortly before her fourth birthday, has mesmerized Britain for years. Her parents say Madeleine disappeared after they had left her and her twin siblings asleep in their holiday complex while they had dinner with friends at a nearby restaurant.
More than 600 people had been identified as being potentially significant, but officers were tipped off about the German suspect following a 2017 appeal, 10 years after the girl went missing.
Police said the suspect, described as white with short, blond hair and a slim build, was linked to a camper van seen in the Algarve in 2007 and was believed to be in the resort area in the days before and after May 3 that year.
Christian Hoppe of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office told German public broadcaster ZDF that the suspect, a German citizen, is currently imprisoned in Germany for a sexual crime. He spent numerous years in Portugal and has two previous convictions for “sexual contact with girls.”
Hoppe said German police aren’t ruling out a sexual motive. They said whoever abducted the girl may have broken into the holiday apartment and then spontaneously committed the kidnapping.
The suspect is being investigated on suspicion of murder by prosecutors in the German city of Braunschweig, where he was last registered before moving abroad.
Wolters wouldn’t give any other details of the suspect’s identity so as not to jeopardize the ongoing investigation.
The description, however, fits that of a 43-year-old man who was convicted in December of the 2005 rape of an American woman, who was 72 at the time, in her apartment in Portugal, the local Braunschweiger Zeitung newspaper reported.
Hoppe said the suspect in the McCann case lived between Lagos and Praia da Luz, was regularly in the Algarve region from between 1995 to 2007. The newspaper, which covered the recent rape trial, said that description and other details match the suspect in that case, who was linked to the 2005 attack recently by DNA.
The suspect denied the charges during the trial and the verdict is currently being appealed. The court didn’t answer an email seeking comment or answer its phones.
Police from Britain, Germany and Portugal launched a new joint appeal for information in the case Wednesday. They asked for anyone to come forward if they had seen two vehicles linked to the suspect — a Volkswagen camper van and a Jaguar. They also sought information on two Portuguese phone numbers, including one believed to have been used by the suspect on the day of Madeleine’s disappearance.
The family, as ever, as searching for answers.
“They do remain hopeful that she could still be found alive,” Mitchell said. “They’ve never given up on that hope, nor will they, until they are presented with any incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. But they say that despite all that, whatever the outcome of this particular line of enquiry might be, they need to know as they need to find peace.”