Indian diaspora in Japan comes together to aid homeland – The Mainichi – The Mainichi

Posted By on May 27, 2021

This photo taken on May 14, 2021, shows Tejender Singh Gopa, head of Gurdwara Kalghidhar Sahib, a Sikh temple in New Delhi, receiving oxygen cylinders sent from Guru Nanak Darbar Tokyo. (Photo courtesy of Gurdwara Kalghidhar Sahib/Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Indians in Japan have rallied to the aid of their homeland as it faces a raging resurgence of the novel coronavirus, with individuals, religious groups and businesses sending donations including prized cylinders of oxygen to different parts of the country with which they have connections.

"We want to go to India and help, but it is impossible in these circumstances. We cannot bear our country's pain and want to do as much as we can from afar," said a representative of Guru Nanak Darbar Tokyo, a Sikh temple in Japan's capital that has collected about 5.2 million yen ($48,000) from Indians and Japanese.

The temple has used the money to send a total of 20 oxygen cylinders and five oxygen concentrators to Gurdwara Kalghidhar Sahib, a small Sikh temple in New Delhi that -- like many places of worship as well as educational sites in India -- has turned into an ad-hoc medical facility as hospitals find themselves overwhelmed in many parts of the country.

Guru Nanak Darbar Tokyo has also sent aid to another Sikh temple in the capital and a small hospital in the western state of Gujarat, and is planning to send aid to other states such as West Bengal in the east and the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.

Many hospitals in India have reported shortages of oxygen to help COVID patients breathe as the country battles its massive second wave, which has made it the second-worst affected country in total cases after the United States.

Two Tokyo-based groups associated with early 20th-century Indian social reformer Babasaheb Ambedkar have contributed 700,000 yen to set up a temporary medical center in the city of Nagpur in the western state of Maharashtra.

"It is a free-of-charge center and we are focusing on poor people who cannot afford expensive treatment in private hospitals," said Linson Wasnik, a volunteer who was involved in setting up the facility. He said there are also plans to build a permanent hospital in Nagpur to cater to medical support for the poor.

For individuals, sending direct aid to India can involve a number of obstacles, as a group of friends found out in late April when they decided to try to ship oxygen concentrators, which are in high demand as a substitute for oxygen cylinders.

Natasha Gupta, 29, who works at a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo, said issues such as arrival delays and voltage differences between the two countries eventually meant they had to procure supplies locally in India.

She felt a strong urge to do something after the father of a close friend passed away as the virus moved from India's towns and cities to its villages.

"Many friends (back in India) were trying to find plasma and oxygen cylinders for their relatives on social media, and I felt really helpless that I cannot do much from here. We knew that something had to be done as cases in villages were only going to increase henceforth."

After donating concentrators to five organizations, the friends' next move is to help Indian families back home who are trying to buy concentrators from Japan but must overcome the language barrier.

"Some people are desperate to get concentrators from here, so we are providing information to them that is only available in Japanese," Gupta said.

The Embassy of India in Tokyo, which Gupta said guided their efforts, has also been assisting Indian business associations as well as Japanese companies on how to offer aid or make donations.

"We did hand-holding for some firms that are willing to offer support and gifts of donation to India, while others did it using their local offices," said Ambassador Sanjay Kumar Verma.

"Every country has a limit when it comes to dealing with such a crisis, and at such times international cooperation is required," he said. "We are grateful for all the help, Japan-India partnership on the pandemic is moving forward very well."

The Japan India Industry Promotion Association, for example, has collaborated with Time World Co., a Japanese manufacturer of oxygen devices, to deliver an oxygen concentrator and an oxygen chamber, which can assist about eight people to breathe at one time.

"We talked with our business connections and came up with this. We wish to help our people in any possible way," said 42-year-old Prashant Godghate, chairman of the association, who lost his elder brother to the pandemic last month, about sending the aid to Maharashtra.

Among other individuals coming forward is Bindu Varma, a resident of Japan since 1984, who started a fundraising drive among her compatriots despite her concern at how mass events were allowed to be held in recent months just as India's second wave of viral infections built.

"Initial feelings were mixed, given the irresponsible manner in which events like the Kumbh Mela (a Hindu festival) and (national parliamentary) elections were held across the country, but the desire to help in any possible way took over," said Varma, 60, adding that "family and friends' support has been tremendous."

Eight oxygen concentrators are on their way to a small medical facility in the southern state of Tamil Nadu run by a young physician couple, who are treating patients at subsidized rates.

"Usually we have to travel around 30 kilometers to get oxygen cylinders filled while having to stand in a queue for eight hours. Each and every minute is important for patients with hypoxia, so these concentrators" save lives, said S.K. Pradhyum, who runs the facility with his wife Swati.

The couple was set to return to Germany where they work but decided to remain in India to help fight the pandemic. "It's like a war going on, so we decided to stay and do justice to our profession," Pradhyum said.

Oxygen, however, is not the only resource the country craves. Many people from rural areas who lost their jobs amid the health crisis are finding it difficult to manage to eat, and some Indian residents of Japan have not turned a blind eye.

Raghavendra Jain, an artificial intelligence engineer working in Tokyo, sent money to a school in a small village in Uttar Pradesh where children of the poor are educated for free. The school uses donations to set up small businesses for parents who had been working in big cities but lost work.

"I follow some people on social media who are involved in social causes and Mr. Ajit Singh (who runs the school) is one of them. Such calls are mostly made from Facebook and Whatsapp groups, and everyone I know has helped in their capacity since the outbreak," said Jain, whose whole family back in India caught the coronavirus but have now recovered.

"They recovered thanks to doctors, self-discipline, and lots of good luck. Still, with several variants appearing, their well-being has been a continuous source of anxiety," the 34-year-old added.

Like other Indians living in Japan -- a community numbering close to 40,000 people, according to Japanese Justice Ministry data -- he is hoping for a swift end to the pandemic ravaging his homeland.

"We wish normalcy resumes soon," he said.

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Indian diaspora in Japan comes together to aid homeland - The Mainichi - The Mainichi

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