By Madhava Smullen
A second Covid wave has struck India hard, with deaths passing 200,000, although according to the BBC “the real number of fatalities is thought to be far greater, with many not being officially recorded.” There have been at least 300,000 new infections every day in the past week, with over 17.9 million cases registered altogether. Some parts of the country, such as Delhi, Mumbai, and parts of Maharashtra have been affected worse than others; however acute stress on the medical system, shortage of medicine, and critically low oxygen supplies are common concerns everywhere.
Several countries, including the UK, Singapore, Russia, New Zealand and France are offering aid and have pledged to send emergency medical equipment to India. According to BBC News, the US is also set to deliver supplies worth more than $100 million, “in addition to individual US states and private companies also readying oxygen, equipment, and supplies for Indian hospitals.”
Meanwhile, ISKCON devotees in India are battling Covid along with the rest of the country, while also stepping up to do what they can to help.
“Many devotees, both in the ashram and in the congregation, have been affected in the second wave,” says ISKCON India Communications Director Yudhistira Govinda Das. “Most cases have been mild, but some have been serious, and some devotees or their immediate family members have passed away.”
One of the hardest hit places is ISKCON Mayapur, where according to Yudhistira there are 300 confirmed cases. However, since extensive testing has not yet been possible, he says the actual number could be much higher. This is occupying the community’s one full-time doctor, two nurses and two non-medical staff to their full capability.
“They have converted the Vamshi Bhavan into a COVID care facility, but they need a lot of support,” Yudhistira says.
Pankajanghri Das, who has given his life to serving the Deities in Mayapur, is currently in critical condition, while Temple of the Vedic Planetarium Managing Director Sadbhuja Das is also in hospital on oxygen support. In Vrindavan, BB Govinda Swami has tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-isolating and following the medical protocol prescribed by a devotee doctor. Devotees around the world are requested to offer prayers for all these saintly devotees so that they may recover by the mercy of the Lord.
According to Yudhistira Govinda, to keep safe most ISKCON temples in India are observing a lockdown-like status, while there are state-imposed lockdowns in some parts of the country such as Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Other parts of India have imposed “micro-containment zones” where the Covid positivity rate is high.
Yudhistira Govinda explains that ISKCON temples where there are a large number of resident devotees have broken the temple into different sections. Thus, instead of congregating in one place for temple services or for prasadam meals, the service occurs in two different places at once in order to reduce transmission as much as possible.
Temples have also been encouraging devotees who wish to do so to get vaccinated. “Many of the senior devotees have gotten vaccinated,” Yudhistira says. “And now from May onwards, the government has opened the vaccination process for anyone over the age of 18. So that may also have more devotees coming forward to take vaccines.”
While they do what they can to protect themselves, devotees are also stepping up to help others. In New Delhi, devotees have started a free meal home delivery service, with a dedicated helpline, for senior citizens, pregnant women, and Covid patients.
“You just call the customer service number, and we cook fresh meals, pack them up, and deliver them to your doorstep, free of charge,” says Yudhistira. “Right now we are doing about 22,000 plates a day in Delhi and the extended Delhi area.”
ISKCON Dwarka in Delhi, in collaboration with the Delhi Government and University of Delhi, is also in the process of setting up a 180-bed Covid Care Center which will provide care, urgent oxygen (through oxygen concentrator), and basic drugs for those who are most vulnerable.
The Lotus Trust, the welfare arm of ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Manor, is raising funds for this urgent initiative, which will ultimately reduce pressure on the local hospitals that are already overwhelmed.
Finally, ISKCON Delhi has a helpline to assist with mental health. “If you are troubled, you can just call up, and there are 24/7 mental health counselors who will help you,” Yudhistira Govinda says.
Efforts by ISKCON India to help the public in other parts of the country, as well as efforts by ISKCON to help Indian devotees, are also underway.
In the meantime, Yudhistira says, “Devotees are trying to be as cautious as possible, and to use these circumstances to the best of our advantage, spiritually-speaking.”