India COVID crisis: ‘If I don’t work my children will starve’

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For Mohammad Ghulam Bhat, 63, who cannot read or write, is completely deaf and can only communicate via sign language, life was already a struggle before the COVID pandemic took hold.

He used to support his wife, Rukhsana, 50, three daughters aged 15, 10 and six, and one son, 12, by taking on casual manual labour – when he could find it. These days, due to his age, he relies mostly on begging on the street, bringing in a monthly income of about 3,000 rupees ($41) for the whole family, who reside in a small shack in Hamdanpora in the Kulgam district of Indian-administered Kashmir.KEEP READINGIndia COVID crisis: ‘A graveyard of the young’India COVID crisis: ‘The hospital ran out of oxygen and mum died’India COVID crisis: ‘Lack of oxygen killed him, not the virus’India COVID crisis: ‘Our mother has two swords over her head’

But on the morning of April 27, he started to experience a sore throat, breathlessness and fever.

Mohammad rushed to the nearest medical centre. There, he tested positive for COVID. The hospital staff tried to explain to him the dangers of the virus and the precautions he should take at home. But, unable to understand what they were saying, he left the hospital in confusion.

Back home, his eldest daughter was able to understand the test result and, recalling seeing a few posters and hearing radio advertisements, explained that he was sick. However, as none of the family can read or write, they had little access to any in-depth information about the nature of COVID. They did not understand that they needed to isolate.

The family spent the day taking care of Mohammad, giving him home remedies, such as hot water and blankets, for his fever and sore throat. But they did not understand how contagious or dangerous COVID could be.

By the next morning, Mohammad’s breathing had become laboured. His wife went around the neighbourhood, asking for help. One man – Naveed Abdallah, 25, a graphic designer who lives with his parents and five siblings close by – offered to help, even though he and his entire family had also tested positive for COVID earlier in April – they have all since recovered.

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