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Forgotten Corona Warriors: Seafarers Still Wait For Repatriation Flights

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.


On May 13, 2020, the Prime Minister of India addressed the nation for the fifth time on the COVID-19 crisis. He announced an economic package which, along with decisions of RBI and Centre, was worth ₹20 lakh crore. He insisted that it would play an important role in “Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan”.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharama, PM Narendra Modi
PM Modi announced an economic package on May 13.

In his earlier speech on May 3, 2020, he had talked about the extension of the complete lockdown and the need to follow social distancing norm nationwide, with the possibility of some relaxation in area with no coronavirus hotspots. He listed the national problems which every Indian was facing. He also talked about the collective strength of our nation, our doctors, medical staffs, sanitation workers and our security force who are putting their lives at risk and fighting against corona every day.

The lockdown began on March 22 with a Janta Curfew after the cases started increasing across every state. Understanding the people’s fear, our Prime Minister urged the nation to join hands with the corona fighters and clap for them for at least for five minutes from their respective homes. On April 5, 2020, the Prime Minister again appealed to the citizens to stand in their doorway or balconies and for nine minutes, light a candle, diya, torch or their mobiles with an aim to fight the darkness spread by coronavirus with light.

Our nation hass been continuously expressing its gratitude to our doctors, medical staff and sanitation workers, police force and others who dedicated their life to fight against corona. However, on the other side, people have forgetten sacrifices of the seaman who are far away from their home and standing as the foundation of the world’s economy. Despite WHO recommendation for seafarers, shipping companies continue risking the lives of lakhs of seamen all over the world.

Ministry of External Affair with Directorate General of Shipping has come out with a solution for those seafarers who are on foreign ships. They can be repatriated through charted flights only. That means individual companies have to book charted flights to make repatriation of seafarers, which costs a lot for the companies. This also means that companies are not going to book such flights or most of companies will not go for this option as it’s a question of money. Therefore, in such circumstances, seafarers will get stuck between the decisions of the company and the government.

Work from Home Vs Far Away From Home: A Global Concern

Seafarers are working day and night in this pandemic while others are allowed to work from home. We, seafarers, are

Credits: Al Jazeera

working for our own country, but we are kept away from our own nation. The government has left us stuck like this, and nobody is even taking up our issue in the parliament. Government has forgetten our sacrifices and has no concern for the seafarer who is keeping the supply chain running when the world is in lockdown. We, the seafarers, are working for everyone by putting our lives at risk for livelihood of our brothers and sisters all over the world.

If the government can send normal flights to evacuate other people all over the world, why not do this for seafarers as well? Why has the government made us fully dependent only on companies’ decisions?

There are some important points which are crucial for the safety, and illustrate the need to call back Indian seaman (The points below are based on telephonic conversation with Navigation Officers):

  • As some Indian seamen are in European countries right now, the government can ask the companies to assemble all ships at one place (such as Istanbul, Malta or Singapore) on which Indian seafarers are onboard and those that are due for sign off.
  • All ships (which are in Europe and the Black Sea covering Romania, Russia, Ukraine too) must be given one week time to assemble/gather at Malta or Istanbul. So, if any ship is away from these aforementioned places, it can come in due time of one week.
  • Once all the ships have gathered at a common place, companies can make a list of Indian seafarers who are due for sign off and such a list can be provided to the Indian government.
  • On receiving the said list, government can arrange the number of flights accordingly and can send them to a common place, i.e Istanbul, Malta or Singapore and evacuate the standard Indian seafarers.
  • This way, companies also do not have to book charted flights and seafarer can go home easily without becoming a victim of the government and the company.

A case study of one navigating officer well described that his health is getting affecting day by day since he signed in the ship for his regular contract on September 2019 last year. He has completed nine months now, but the ship is still sailing everyday waiting for the hope of sign off. He revealed his story:

We are just balancing world’s economy by doing our duty in the Corona era. Initially, I was not getting any serious health consequences, but now I am experiencing pain in my back and knee joints and jaw pain. Since every place is in lockdown, I was unable to go to any country for a health consultation, but the pain was very serious. Finally, I managed to go to one clinic in Italy after the Captain’s permission. Italy was the most dangerous place as a corona hotpot, but anyhow, I got done with my checkups and am doing my everyday duty with medicine.

Even India is now at the fourth position in corona cases and I am worried day-by-day as to when we will able to reach India, when we will get permission to sign off. This pandemic situation is not just destroying my body, but I am mentally depressed by overwork and less sleep. Sudden change globally is affecting every individual, but we are the most tormented, far from home and putting our life on risk but carrying out our duties.

This COVID-19 situation is changing our life mentally, personally and globally, and this is going to affect not just us but the entire world as a whole. Why has our honorable Prime Minister forgotten to mention the seafarers’ sacrifice in his every speech while addressing the nation? Who is keeping the supply chain active in this pandemic situation? Our work is as important as other corona warriors in India. We are requesting our honorable Prime Minister to take our issue strongly. We all want to come back to India; our family is waiting to see us. Thanks!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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