THE Bishop of North East India, the Rt Revd Michael Herenz, in the Church of North India, said this week that, so far, not a single member of a church congregation had died of Covid-19 in the region, despite the rise in cases across the country.
But, he said, the strict lockdown had led to great suffering in communities, as people “were not at all ready for this long lockdown”.
There was a huge need for aid and assistance in the predominantly rural diocese, he said, and churches were providing what relief they could. He said that hygiene items, including masks and hand sanitisers, were “far beyond the reach” of normal people, who were not even able to get the basic materials to make their own protective items.
North-eastern India borders China, Tibet, and Myanmar. Christianity is the third religion in the region, after Hinduism and Islam.
PAChairs display names of the absent congregation in an empty church on Good Friday, during the lockdown in Kochi, India
The Indian government has eased some of the strict lockdown conditions for farmers, to avoid food shortages, but no restrictions are being lifted in areas where there are many cases, including all Indian cities.
It is up to state governors to decide when the lockdown will be eased. In Kerala, in the south, where infections have been fewer, an easing of restrictions began this week.
The Roman Catholic agency Caritas India has been running free medical clinics in areas with large populations of migrant workers, who have been left jobless by the lockdown. The charity is also providing hygiene kits and counselling for vulnerable families.
The RC Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, said in an Easter sermon that following the lockdown was a “moral obligation” to protect others. But he has interceded on behalf of migrant workers with the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to ask for emergency assistance.
In the state of Bihar, a Jesuit social-action centre working with Dalit communities — many of whose members are Christian — is providing for thousands of people who were starving under the lockdown. Although the Bihar state distributes food to the people free of charge, many Dalits do not have access to it, because they have no documents to prove where they live or their identity.
Midweek figures showed that India had about 20,000 cases and more than 650 deaths in a population of 1.3 billion; these figures, however, are believed to be a vast underestimate.
A marked improvement in air quality has been reported as one of the benefits of the lockdown: 13 of the country’s cities are rated among the most polluted in the world, but scientists have found that their air quality has improved dramatically in the past few weeks.