BHOPAL: In a dilapidated double storey house in Budhwara, a thickly populated lower middle class area of Old Bhopal, twin girls aged five suddenly start wailing and ask for their parents.
“Where is our papa and mummy, when will they return, have they gone to God?” they ask.
Family members immediately rush in, consoling the twins that things will be fine and their parents are likely to return soon.
But return they will not as Mohan and Rita Barve, the girl’s parents, fell prey to Covid-19 in quick succession.
“We have to lie to my nieces everyday when they ask us about their parents. I don’t know how long we will able to hide the truth that their parents will never return,” said Mankesh Raikwar, the twins’ maternal uncle who has taken the responsibility of taking care of the girls.
“Along with their parents, they had also tested Covid positive, but they are fine now,” he added.
Mohan, 42, was an electrician with a semi-government herbal products plant in Bhopal’s Barkheda Pathani area.
Sometime last month he started getting fever, but instead of getting himself tested for Covid, he continued to take medicines from a personal doctor.
His condition suddenly worsened on April 28 and he had shortness of breath.
Raikwar rushed him to the state government-run Hamidia Hospital, where he was put on oxygen support.
But two days later despite the best efforts of doctors, Mohan succumbed to the infection.
By the time Mohan was hospitalised, his wife Rita and the twin daughters, too, had tested positive.
Five days later on May 3, Rita, who was being treated in isolation at her parents’ old home, also died.
“I had gone to immerse Mohan’s ashes in the river Narmada in the neighbouring Hoshangabad district on May 3. While returning home I got a call that my sister Rita had also passed away,” said Raikwar.
But the future is tense for Raikwar’s family of four and the twins as they are living on borrowed money. An auto-rickshaw driver, Raikwar has not earned a penny in the past 15 days owing to the lockdown.
“I have already borrowed Rs 40,000 and will have to borrow more to take care of four kids now. My two other sisters, who live in Bhopal and Burhanpur, are willing to take care of the twin nieces, but my 75-year-old mother doesn’t want to leave her granddaughters,” he said.
“Neither my sister nor my brother-in-law would have ever thought they would depart from this world in a matter of days. But we will take care of their daughters as long as we can.” Raikwar added.
The twins are not the only children who have been orphaned in the current Covid surge.
More cases of both parents dying of Covid are surfacing, leaving behind dependent children. There are anecdotal reports of some of them even being abandoned and left to fend for themselves.
Orphaned children need care, protection: NCPCR
In fact, children becoming orphaned is the scary new face of the second wave, making it different from the first phase and underlining the monumental human suffering and tragedy of the pandemic.
Driven by the highly infectious B.1.617 variant of the virus, the second wave has seen entire families being laid low by the virus.
This was not so in the first phase of the pandemic. Last year, a person getting infected did not necessarily mean that others in the family also contracted the disease.
But the current surge is different, with the virus affecting almost all in the family. This is at times leading to death of both parents.
Cases of children being orphaned has also come to the government’s notice. In a letter to all chief secretaries on May 2, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Priyank Kanoongo drew the attention of state governments of “children who have become orphans due to the death of both parents from Covid-19”.
Kanoongo said children who are “found to be abandoned are in need of care and protection under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, and such children must be produced before the Child Welfare Committee”.
When contacted, Bhopal’s Child Line director Archana Sahay and MP Commission for Protection of Child Rights member Brijesh Chauhan said they were aware of the twins losing their parents.
“It is in our knowledge and we will soon send a team to Mankesh Raikwar’s house, ” Sahay said.
“We will bring the twins under the state government’s child sponsorship scheme. This will ensure Rs 2,000 per month to each of the twin sisters. We will do whatever is possible to help the twins and take care of their future,” she added.
According to Chauhan, “we are also planning a reserve fund with contributions from people, including industrialists and other donors, to secure the future of children who have lost both parents to Covid.”
NCPCR seized of the matter
On May 2, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights drew the attention of all states to children orphaned due to Covid-19, saying those abandoned or in need of care must be produced before Child Welfare Committees