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UCLA students of Indian diaspora worry for family in India amid COVID-19 outbreak

First-year Kaashvi Mahajan worries about her family in New Delhi during India’s COVID-19 crisis. Currently in Abu Dhabi, she finds it difficult to comfort and support relatives from afar. (Sakshi Joglekar/Daily Bruin staff)

By Constanza Montemayor

May 17, 2021 2:22 p.m.

Kaashvi Mahajan felt disheartened on a recent call with her grandparents.

She had been hearing about the COVID-19 situation in India – where cases have dramatically increased – but was in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, over 1,400 miles away from her relatives in New Delhi, India.

“You want to do something to help them but there’s only so much you can do,” said Mahajan, a first-year chemical engineering student.

Her grandparents have been isolated in their house for the entire year to avoid exposure to the virus, Mahajan said, and have been losing hope after months without a caretaker. Managing housework has become difficult for them at their age.

As of May 14, there have been over 24.3 million confirmed cases and over 266,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in India, according to the World Health Organization. In May, the seven-day average of new cases rose to over 370,000 per day, according to Our World in Data.

Since the pandemic began, Mahajan has been worried for her extended family in New Delhi. The sudden, sharp increase in COVID-19 cases caused many in India to struggle to find proper medical supplies or care, leading her to worry even more for her family living there.

Mahajan is one of many UCLA students from the Indian diaspora who said they were struggling with stress and fear for their family in India.

Bhavna Sreekumar, a third-year cognitive science student, said she found it difficult to try to live her life as normal while her family and country were surrounded by tragedy. Although some of her family in India is vaccinated, she said she still feels overwhelmed sometimes. She added that the large and still increasing number of deaths from the virus is difficult to comprehend.

“It’s so much out of your control,” she said. “Even if you donate it’s like, ‘What can you do?’ The most you can do is just sit here and wait.”

Anita Ramasastry, a third-year philosophy student, said it has been difficult to see her grandparents cooped up in their apartment in Bangalore, India for the last year.

Recently, Ramasastry’s grandmother suddenly had trouble breathing. Although it turned out to just be an asthma flare up, the thought that her grandmother may have been infected scared her, she said.

Multiple of Ramasastry’s aunts and uncles in India have been hospitalized with COVID-19. Although all have managed to recover, Ramasastry said they described the medical situation in India as chaotic.

Ramasastry said it was difficult to watch India grapple with the virus from the United States, where much of the country has begun to reopen and most have been offered vaccinations. She feels dissatisfied with the Indian government’s and other countries’ responses and slowness to provide aid to India during the current crisis.

India has exported millions of vaccines to other nations as one of the largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and many hospitals are suffering shortages of supplies, such as ventilators and medical oxygen, according to the New York Times.

“It feels wrong, in some ways, that I’m able to go outside, go out to dinner and hang out with my friends who’ve been vaccinated,” Ramasastry said. “It feels wrong. That’s the best way I can put it.”

Other students, such as Meet Dalsania, also held concerns about medical supply shortages and some relatives’ necessary return to public life.

Complacency may have been a factor in the latest increase in COVID-19 cases, said Dalsania, a third-year biochemistry student. However, he added that many people needed to return to work after a year of lockdowns, forcing them to meet in public places.

Some of his friends and family had to return to in-person work because their jobs did not allow them to work remotely, Dalsania said. He worried that many did not have access to adequate medical resources or health care and said many of his friends and family in the state of Gujarat were still unvaccinated and at risk.

“I always have that one extra layer of stress, I would say,” Dalsania said. “Not just stress but just thinking, keeping in mind like, ‘What’s going on? Let me check on this person, (and) this person.’”

While they can not be physically present, many students try to comfort and help family online, checking in over Zoom or spreading awareness of the state of COVID-19 on social media.

Awareness of the situation is important, Mahajan said. She uses Instagram to spread awareness and encourage donations.

“The responsibility that comes with being a global citizen is that we care for each other,” Mahajan said. “My responsibility doesn’t stop when I’m fully vaccinated. … It’s when I’ve done everything I’m capable of doing to help those around me, and that’s why it’s very important to try to get that message out there.”

Her family calls at least one family member in India daily to check in, Ramasastry said. At one point, she said her family began calling friends working in Indian hospitals to help locate an open bed for Ramasastry’s uncle, who had become too ill with COVID-19 to find one himself.

“It’s hard seeing how much it’s impacted not just my family but so many of our other friends, families and how there’s really not much we can do,” Ramasastry said. “This helpless feeling is something that’s hard to get over.”

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Constanza Montemayor | Features and student life editor
Montemayor is currently the 2020-2021 features and student life editor. She was previously a News reporter, Photo contributor for the news beat and Arts contributor. She is also a second-year global studies student at UCLA.
Montemayor is currently the 2020-2021 features and student life editor. She was previously a News reporter, Photo contributor for the news beat and Arts contributor. She is also a second-year global studies student at UCLA.
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