Heartbreak of Australians trapped by coronavirus in India

Joyjit (left) and Jashan Sanghera with the son they last held on February 29, 2020. Picture: Supplied
Joyjit (left) and Jashan Sanghera with the son they last held on February 29, 2020. Picture: Supplied

People from Australia trapped in India by the government's block on them returning to their homes have told of their pain.

Some called the federal government's actions "racist".

Akriti Gupta's father died suddenly on December 25 and she and her husband, Aman, flew to Chandigarh in Punjab immediately. They are now trapped in India but paying rent in Australia - $10,000 so far but with no idea how high the bill will go.

Mr Gupta's employers have been tolerant but say that, if he doesn't return soon, he may lose his information technology job with a bank.

James Jacob flew to Bangalore when his sister became ill. His wife and two daughters are still in Australia.

"Australia is my country. My family is there. I need to be part of my family," he told The Canberra Times.

James Jacob. Picture: Supplied

James Jacob. Picture: Supplied

"Indians are looking at me as an Australian and Australians are looking at me as an Indian," he said.

The last time Joyjit and Jashan Sanghera saw their baby son, Arhaan, was on February 29 last year. His grandparents took the baby back from Canberra to India for what was meant to be a six week stay - and then Covid struck.

With the international travel ban, the grandparents couldn't bring the child back to his Australian home and his parents couldn't leave it to fetch their boy.

"I've been going through depression since last year," the father said.

Arjun Raina went back to Delhi to look after his 84-year-old mother. He says that he is not stuck in India because he still needs to be there for her - but he does think the coalition's threat to jail people who return is racist.

Dr Raina who normally works at Flinders University in Melbourne said that a similar draconian block on Australians returning wasn't put in place when Covid was rampant in Britain.

"When the British mutation was happening, the ferocious clampdown didn't happen. That's racism," he said.

Akriti and Aman Gupta. Picture: Supplied

Akriti and Aman Gupta. Picture: Supplied

Others echoed that view, asking why similar fines and jail sentences weren't enacted for incomers when the epidemic was rife in the United States.

"Australia is not behaving like a developed country," Mrs Gupta said. "They are keeping themselves safe and we are paying the price. We are ready to quarantine for 14 days at our own cost - just arrange beds for us. It's heart-breaking."

She lost her university job when the epidemic struck but her husband, as a highly skilled IT worker, kept his. The death of her father was so sudden that they flew out four days later and simply left their home in Melbourne as it was - at a rent of $2000 a month.

Friends and neighbours are helping look after the property in Melbourne but the exiles in India don't know how long that can go on.

She has an additional dilemma: if she does manage to return to Australia, she doesn't know when - or if - she will see her widowed mother again. All the same, she badly wants to return home to Australia.

Many of the people caught in India are categorised as permanent residents of Australia who have a right to live and work in Australia but do not have the full rights of a citizen.

Arjun Raina. Picture: Supplied

Arjun Raina. Picture: Supplied

It is not clear what distinction Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade makes between permanent residents and citizens when it comes to the obligation to help people return to Australia.

The situation of two-year-old Arhaan Sanghera is complicated. He was born in Canberra Hospital on June 18, 2018. He is a citizen of Australia.

His grandparents came from India a year later to see their new grandson, and it was decided that the baby would go back to India for a short spell so they would have time with him.

But then with the international travel ban, his parents couldn't go to Australia to bring him back and his grandparents couldn't leave India with him either. The boy who is about to turn three is parted from his father and mother in Queanbeyan.

The allegation of racism was widespread. "Racial element is obviously appearing in this law. It is difficult to imagine that the Australian Government would jail and fine its citizens returning from the US or UK," the Hindu Council of Australia said.

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This story Heartbreak of Australians trapped in India first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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