As they sit on the floor of their brightly colored Delhi home, she holds another plate of food in front of a framed photo of her parents. He died of Kovid-19 a few weeks ago.
The 23-year-old teacher has become the primary caregiver and breadwinner of her five siblings aged 4 to 14 and a major pillar of strength for her eldest 20-year-old sister. He barely had time to grieve.
“My biggest fear is whether I will be able to love them like mom and dad or not,” said Devika, who is only using her maiden name over privacy concerns.
“I will earn money; I believe in myself. My sister will also earn money; I believe in her. We can do whatever we want in terms of money, but the absence of parents is a big difference in their lives.” . to fill, how can we fill that void?” he said.
Social workers are scrambling to locate them, worried they could be hit by smugglers or end up on the streets if they are left to fend for themselves.
‘They are together now’
Just a few months back, life of Devika and her family looked quite different. Devika’s focus was on studying for a bachelor’s education degree and teaching children in her spare time.
Her father worked as a pandit – or Hindu priest – in a temple, and went to homes to perform rituals. Despite the rise in cases in the capital, he insisted on going out for work. Her mother mostly stayed at home, looked after the children, and sometimes helped in the temple.
Devika tried to isolate the children above, but it was too late. Entire family including his 53-year-old father — Fever developed. Although the children were never tested for COVID-19, Devika’s mother later tested positive at the hospital.
The children recovered, but their mother’s condition deteriorated and her proper medical care proved impossible. After visiting three hospitals in one night, Devika eventually found a hospital in a nearby town He would take her mother, although she did not have oxygen or a ventilator.
“We were so helpless. We did everything we could. But we failed,” she said.
Around the same time, her father was admitted to a hospital in Delhi. When her mother died on 29 April, Devika did not dare to tell her. He had a phrase that he would say a lot to his wife: “Without you, there is no fun in living.”
Devika recalled the moment her mother’s body was taken to a Delhi hospital, where she The father was undergoing treatment, so he could see him for the last time before the funeral.
“Mom was in the ambulance, dad came out of the hospital and then he looked. He rolled his eyes, and he didn’t say anything,” Devika said.
After that, she feels that her father has lost the will to live. Exactly a week later, on May 7, he too died of Covid.
“We really think he wanted to go with mom,” Devika said.
“My father liked mommy. They’re together now,” she cried.
After the death of her parents, Devika worried that the authorities would remove her siblings from her. He called for running a government Child care hotline for advice.
They told her that she was the primary guardian – and it was up to her to decide what to do.
The past few weeks have been hazy. Devika took a loan for her parents’ hospital treatment and now that money is helping the family run. She takes care of her siblings with her university workload and her part-time job. The family also gets dry ration from NGOs, Prayas and Childline. Devika has no time to handle her grief; She wants to be strong for her siblings.
“So much so that the tears don’t come,” she said.
what is being done to help
Devika told Child Hotline that she has lost both her parents – but that’s not always the case.
organizations are Looking for children who might need their help, and who are relying on social media, calling Childline, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which existed before Covid.
Getting help for rural children can be difficult. They have less internet access and less safety net, says Sudarshan Suchi, chief executive, Save the Children India.
“The people we don’t know about worry me even more,” Suchi said.
They also have to deal with restrictions on movement, misinformation and the fear of contracting Covid from neighbours. who would have helped otherwise.
In one instance, Save the Children staff traced two children whose father died in hospital and whose mother died at home, both from COVID. Suchi said that both the children were suspected of having Covid, so neighbors in her slum refrained from helping them and the children were unable to use the normal bathroom.
Suchi said, “If earlier earthquakes or floods used to hit a small village or colony, everyone would come together and find ways to rescue. When Covid comes, the first thing everyone has to do is stay away. It happens.” “It’s an unknown ghost. People with a tradition of collective spirit and community action are partially wary of such things today.”
If things go smoothly, children can be reunited with their extended family – the general theory is that institutional care may not be the first recourse, and that the family environment is better for the child, according to the Delhi Safety Commission. President Anurag Kundu said. of child rights.
But organizations worry about what will happen if vulnerable children fall through the cracks, putting them at risk of being trafficked on the streets.
In May, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Z Irani urged people hearing about orphans to tell authorities – and not share information about them online, lest they be targeted by traffickers.
“Before the pandemic, under normal circumstances, there were more than two million children in distress on the streets on any given day,” Suchi said in May. “If anything happens in the pandemic it can only get worse, not better.”
Even before the second wave, more children were living on the streets, Kundu said – India likely falling victim to the months-long lockdown that left millions of daily wage earners in the country without work.
Kundu said, “I have never in my entire life seen as many children on the streets as I have seen in the last 12 months.” “The socioeconomic aspect of this will be felt in times to come.”
what does the future look like
Right now the focus is on keeping the children safe. But India’s Covid Orphans demonstrates how the devastation of last year will be felt long after the pandemic is over.
Suchi said the first priority was survival.
“These kids, already being vulnerable, are going to go into a spiral in this. It’s not just about their illness from Covid – it’s about their education, it’s about their health, it’s about their Basic Social Security is all about the fabric. Suddenly,” Suchi said. After that, support was needed for his future.
“You can’t save a child from the middle and then let them drown at the end of the stream or somewhere along the shore.”
UNICEF India representative Yasmin Ali Haque agreed, saying that it is important to look at not only the physical needs of the child – adequate shelter, food, education, for example – but also the psychological impact.
“The child is deprived of the loving care of his parents, growing up in a family environment,” she said. “The psychosocial impact on a child can be long-lasting, lifelong.”
The future of her siblings weighs heavily on Devika.
he didn’t tell her youngest siblings that their parents are dead – for now, they are told that their parents have moved back to their villages in the countryside.
When his parents were alive, Devika asked why they? As the pandemic went out – the day her mother got fever, Devika told her not to go to the temple for help. Devika told him that staying alive and safe is more important than earning.
“I never understood why,” she said. “Now that I’m where they were, I finally understand them. I know why they left the house.”
Vedika Sood and Isha Mitra reported from New Delhi. Julia Hollingsworth wrote and reported from Hong Kong. Sandi Sidhu contributed reporting. Video by Vijay Bedi in New Delhi.