'No one helped’: How COVID-19 stigma left a family stranded in Hyderabad rains

The experience of Venkatesh and his family proves once again just how much stigma COVID-19 patients face.
'No one helped’: How COVID-19 stigma left a family stranded in Hyderabad rains
'No one helped’: How COVID-19 stigma left a family stranded in Hyderabad rains
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“We have been through hell. When we needed help, no one came forward. If you called to check if we are alive, yes, we are alive. There is nothing more I have to say,” says Venkatesh Kandukuri angrily just before hanging up the phone. It took some coaxing and reassurance to calm the fuming man – he had even switched off his phone for the last three days, refusing to speak with anyone. Eventually, he opened up about the fateful night when his family were left helpless and stranded even as his home filled up with water from the rains that lashed Hyderabad – an experience that once again proves just how much stigma COVID-19 patients face.

On October 1, 53-year-old Venkatesh, his wife and his 16-year old son tested positive for the novel coronavirus and were shifted to the Medipally isolation centre. The centre was set up by the local representative for those who could not isolate at home. Venkatesh, who worked at a small shop in Peerzadiguda selling tea, beedis and cigarettes for a living, is visually impaired; as is his wife. The couple and their son, who is in class 10, were admitted to the Medipally isolation centre for 10 days, after which they recovered, and were allowed to return home.

On October 14, the day Hyderabad witnessed extremely heavy rainfall, Venkatesh and his family were still recuperating from the weakness of COVID-19. “Around 5:30 pm, it began to rain. The three of us were at home. Around 8 pm, the entire area began flooding. In a matter of 7-8 minutes, and around four feet of water had entered into our home. Not knowing what to do and where to go with the water level rising, we climbed up the stairs and went to go to the first floor where our landlord stays,” narrates Venkatesh, who stayed on the ground floor. He and his wife were guided up the stairs by their son. “Leaving our belongings behind, we only took Rs 2,000 which I had in my savings.”

However, instead of offering help, the landlord, who saw the family seated on the staircase, asked them to leave. “They told us that they have children at home, and that they are worried about them contracting COVID-19 from us. Though we had recovered from COVID-19, they were scared of us. Whoever we reached out to refused to help us. It was night time, and the water levels only kept rising as it continued to pour. There was nowhere we could go. That night, when we needed help the most, we were shunned away,” Venkatesh says.

A friend of Venkatesh’s eventually alerted Khalida Parveen, an activist in the old city, about the family’s plight. Khalida Parveen immediately tweeted about it, shared their contact number and tagged the concerned officials. The Rachakonda police commissioner was quick to respond and asked his team to do the needful.

In the next few hours, as Venkatesh and his family sat on the stairs cold and shivering, they received several calls. “I received around 50 calls that night. Some said there were from the police, some were activists and some journalists. They asked several questions and took down details about our address and what we needed. But no help came our way. It was so flooded that even if they tried, they probably couldn’t make it here.”

Moreover, answering all the calls also drained the battery of Venkatesh’s phone. The landlord, meanwhile, locked his main door upon realising the Venkatesh’s family could not leave. They slept on the stairs that night as the rains continued to wreak havoc.   

Early in the morning, as the sun rose, the landlord again asked the family to leave. They finally left the house, wading through waist deep water. Finally, Venkatesh’s brother living in Boduppal let the family come home. “We went through hell that night,” Venkatesh says wearily. “People don’t realise that the virus is prevalent world over – if today we are suffering because of COVID-19, tomorrow it could be them.”  

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