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‘They are suffering, so we are suffering’: Local woman tells story of family’s struggle in India
Hopes to see vaccines available back home
India Sikh temple
Takhat Patna Sahib, also called Sri Harimandir Sahib, is a place for assembly and worship for Sikhs in the state of Bihar, India. Bassi explained that some Sikh temples across India have begun to donate food and oxygen tanks to people suffering from Covid-19. Photo courtesy Jaspreet Bassi.

According to the Times of India, Maharashtra, the second biggest state in India, had 39,923 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, May 14. The state health department said that this has been the first time in a month and a half that the daily infection toll in the state has been less than 40,000 people.

Jaspreet Bassi, a resident of Forsyth County and a paraprofessional at Denmark High School, said that she hardly ever looks at the news anymore to see what’s going on in India.

“I don’t have to look at the news to learn,” Bassi said. “Because when you have your own family there, you hear about their own experiences.”

Bassi has many extended family members living in Maharashtra, and she said that life is “very difficult for them at this time.”

She said that while there are thousands upon thousands of new infections every single day, there is a shortage of vaccines that is “very scary.”

According to the Times of India, while there were almost 40,000 new infections recorded on May 14, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation said that there would be no vaccinations held in the city of Mumbai over the weekend.

“There’s no availability for vaccines anywhere in India,” Bassi said. “My [sister’s] friends went [to get the vaccine] before [she did] and got it right away. But she went later and there were none left. And she’s still waiting for a vaccine.”

Bassi said that no one in her family that lives in India has been vaccinated besides her brother-in-law, who was given priority because he was in the military.

“There’s no waitlists there either,” Bassi said. “You just go, and you hope you can get [a vaccine].”

Bassi shared some of her family’s experiences, listing the people close to her that have gotten sick with the COVID-19 disease.

One of her family member’s husbands was sick with the virus for days before finding out, traveling between Maharashtra and New Dehli, the capital of India. Bassi said that he was not able to go to the hospital to get tested, so he continued to work and travel while sick.

“Nowadays, going to the hospital is very scary,” she said.

After he felt bad for a few days, Bassi said he was finally able to get a test in New Dehli, and his results were positive for COVID-19.

“But then in the meantime, my cousin got [the disease], too,” Bassi said.

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Bassi said that, luckily, her cousin was able to find out she was infected and get her sons tested. When they returned negative, her cousin sent the boys to live with their grandmother across the street while she battled the disease.

“We were so scared [for my cousin],” Bassi said. “And she was scared alone in the house, with nobody to look after her.”

Bassi said that her cousin has a “really bad breathing problem,” so everyone in her family was very concerned.

Soon after her cousin’s children were sent to live with their grandmother, her aunt began to develop a cough and a fever.

“But there was nobody to take her to the hospital to find out if she had [COVID-19] or not,” Bassi said. “Everyone was sick.”

Her aunt spoke to a doctor over the phone who encouraged her to stay at home and away from the hospital unless her condition got worse. Bassi said that the biggest concern that she and her family shared at that time was that the boys were living in the house with their sick grandmother, and there were not any vaccines available.  

“There’s a lot going on over there,” Bassi said. “But the positive thing is that I’m a Sikh, and in India, the Sikh temples are coming forward and providing food and oxygen tanks to the people who need them.”

“So instead of going to the hospitals, people are going to the temples, because they know they will be taken care of there,” she said.

Bassi said that there “isn’t that kind of facility in India” like in the United States, where residents are able to sign up for vaccine appointments.

“It’s like there will be some [vaccines] in the morning,” Bassi said. “But then they are gone and there’s nothing.”

Bassi said that it took her cousin an entire month to recover from the virus. She is feeling better now, but she is still weak and tired, and hoped she could receive the vaccine soon.

Her brother-in-law, who has been vaccinated and has been taking all necessary precautions to protect himself, also fell ill with the virus. Bassi said that when he became sick, her family was “just too scared to go to the hospital.”

Bassi said people are not allowed in the hospital unless absolutely necessary, so when her brother-in-law was sick, the doctor met him outside of the building. Bassi and her family were nervous because, even though the doctor was wearing a mask, they didn’t know what kinds of diseases he could be carrying back and forth from the hospital.

“You just don’t know what’s going on inside the hospital,” Bassi said. “Everybody’s exposed to what [the doctors have on them] coming out of the hospital.”

She said that, thankfully, her brother-in-law was only sick for about four days before he felt better, but while he was infected, he “was still feeling very uncomfortable and in pain.”

While all Bassi’s family members have beaten COVID-19 and are on the road to recovery, she said she still worries about them every day.

“We just don’t know what we can do when we are not over there,” Bassi said. “That’s the scary part, for your family at least.”

Bassi said she has started to hear negative comments and racially insensitive things being said about what is going on in India, which she said makes her sad.

“What’s happening in India is not anybody’s fault,” Bassi said. “This disease is such a thing that it’s not anybody’s fault. You can’t point fingers at anybody because everybody is suffering.”

While Bassi said she has not personally been a victim of insensitive remarks, she has heard from others, “Don’t mention you’re Indian right now.”

She said that she hopes her family can get vaccinated soon, and her heart goes out to other members of Forsyth County that have family members in India that are struggling.

“We are all sitting so far away from our families,” Bassi said. “And they are suffering, so we are suffering.”