Ramesh Chennithala is protesting the attitude shown by central and state governments towards Malayalis living abroad who will need to test for coronavirus before taking flights to India.

Ramesh Chennithala at a protest wearing mask with other Congress leaders
news Protest Friday, June 19, 2020 - 13:04

Kerala’s Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala has begun a day-long hunger strike in front of the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, protesting the ‘attitude of the central and state governments towards the nonresident Malayalis’, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is against the Kerala government’s demand to make COVID-19 tests compulsory before taking flights from abroad to come to India.

The protest from 9 in the morning, was inaugurated by the president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) Mullappally Ramachandran. Prominent leaders of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) like Oommen Chandy, Benny Behanan, MK Muneer and others have come to the protest venue.

“The expatriates suffer a lot of difficulties and now the government is calling them carriers of COVID-19. Not just the Vande Bharat mission flights of the central government, but the chartered flights also need the expatriates to carry certificates proving they have tested negative. The expatriates I spoke to say that embassies won’t make arrangements to help. The Department of Non Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA) has not been much helpful. Loka Kerala Sabha (platform for cultural, socio-political and economic integration of nonresident Keralites) has not been helpful,” Ramesh Chennithala told Asianet News.

On Thursday,  Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the Kerala government is considering giving TrueNat rapid test kits for people in Gulf countries, which do not have testing facilities.

It was a day earlier that he said that all people travelling to Kerala from abroad must carry certificates of having tested for coronavirus. He said that the state's stand, made clear to the centre, is that people who test positive and negative for the coronavirus could not be brought together in the same flight. However, he added that all passengers who test positive will be welcome in the state, but that they should be brought in a separate flight.

CM Pinarayi said that it is the state's responsibility to maintain the state’s status as a most secure place and no Malayali would be kept apart because they have COVID-19. “Every Malayali across the world is welcome. This is a time of great disaster. We shouldn’t play politics with people’s health. There have been a lot of criticism in several stages. At first that we are not considering expatriates, later that they are not getting quality facilities. These are not just spreading of false news, but it is also creating insecurity and fear among people,” he said.

However, the state's decision has caused much discomfort for expats, many of whom cannot afford a test. There are also many complications regarding when and how to get a test and whether air fares will get reimbursed if one is not allowed to board a flight.

Also read: Kerala CM’s push for no-COVID certificate upsets expats returning home

'Insulting women all over India': Brinda Karat

Communist leader and politburo member Brinda Karat condemned the statement made by Mullappally, calling it 'sexist, derogatory and petty'. She said that it came 'at a time when the entire world has appreciated the work done by comrade KK Shailaja as the Health Minister of Kerala'.

"Instead of being proud that here is a lady minister from his own state -- you may belong to different parties but you are supposed to represent the interest of the people of Kerala -- and where her work is appreciated all over the world, this gentleman makes such a sexist statement. It is a shame that such a person should be the president of the Congress party in Kerala. So it is up to the Congress. Let them tell the people of Kerala, is this their culture, to personally attack a lady minister who's in the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The least he could do is make a public apology. He is not only insulting comrade Shailaja, not only Kerala, he is insulting women all over India," Brinda Karat said.

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