By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
A Jesuit apostolate in the Indian State of Bihar is working in collaboration with a government agency to provide food for thousands of poor people, especially the most disadvantaged among the Dalit communities during the imposed coronavirus lockdown period in India.
Manthan, a Jesuit social action center involved in working with the Dalit or ‘untouchables’ in the Hindu caste system, provided food parcels to about 5,000 poor people in Patna, the state capital. They also distributed foodstuff to widows, the elderly and the sick.
People in need
Fr. Juno Sebastian SJ, the director of Manthan, said that this initiative came about after he was contacted by many people who said that they had not eaten for days. He immediately got in contact with officials of the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) who agreed to support his idea to feed the poor.
“Now we are distributing cooked meals to 1,500 of them daily, and we will continue until the end of the isolation. We are also working to help 6,500 Musahar families in Patna, for a total of about 40,000 people,” Fr. Sebastian said.
The distribution of food takes place in the slums and villages where the Jesuit Provincial of the Patna Province, Father Donald Miranda, SJ, said that they have managed to reach 700 other families. It has also been extended to parts of Uttar Pradesh where about 3,000 families are also able to be fed daily. The Jesuit College of St. Xavier in Patna is also involved in distributing food to about 530 families in the area.
Even though the Bihar state government 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.
On 24 March, the Indian government announced a nationwide lockdown as part of precautionary measures to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The lockdown has been hard on the poor and the vulnerable especially the Dalit communities, who are predominantly menial workers in the suburbs of Patna, the capital of Bihar.
India presently has 18,658 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections with 592 deaths and 3,273 recovered patients.