Guests stranded as hotels shut down soon after PM’s lockdown announcement

Published : March 26, 2020 23:44 IST

In Guwahati, stranded people leave on a truck after government announced the lockdown, on March 24. Photo: PTI

People who were away from their homes when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, were left stranded with nowhere to go. While daily wagers and migrant labourers were hit hard by the sudden loss of livelihood and several of them were seen walking miles towards their villages, middle class travellers and professionals were also left in the lurch.

Following the announcement on March 24 night, several hotels in Delhi immediately downed shutters and asked their guests to vacate rooms at a moment’s notice. One such guest staying at a OYO hotel, Sarah (name changed) from South Africa, had to vacate her room overnight when most of the hotels in Mahipalpur wound up operations indefinitely. “They kicked me out. I had nowhere to go,” she said over the phone.

When Frontline tried to contact the hotel, the OYO guest experience manager confirmed that the hotel had shut shop for the time being. “We had no option but to shut down and ask the guests to leave after the lockdown was announced as all hotels in the area [Mahipalpur] are shut. While some of our hotels are still in operation across the country, most have been closed.”

A chef by profession, Sarah was in India for the past seven months and this was her most harrowing experience since. After being asked to leave by the hotel, she found a place in Noida to move into on an urgent basis and paid the broker an advance for it. But when she reached the place, the neighbours refused to let her move in, fearing that she might be a carrier of coronavirus. No amount of explanations by Sarah could dissuade the neighbours. Since the virus was first detected on Italian tourists in India, the latent racism reared its ugly head in several instances where Indians discriminated against foreigners. Exhausted by the ordeal, she decided to leave from there. Adding to her agony, the broker did not refund her money.

With nowhere to go, she called up a number she found on social media that promised to help those marooned at railway stations, airports and bus stands. She soon found out that the number belonged to Advocate Mohammad Yasin Rather of the Mahajan Career Learning Foundation (MCLF). Shortly, he, along with Saba Bhat, rescued Sarah and provided her with food and shelter.

MCLF is a non-governmental organisation run by Kashmiris in Delhi that has so far assisted more than a 100 people stuck in similar situations. After their number was shared on social media, they began getting innumerable calls from local people as well as foreigners. “A man from Ghana was also kicked out and we are trying to figure out a way to get help to him,” said Yasin. A distraught girl who had lost her ATM card called them up for monetary help to tide over the crisis.

“We can help people with food and money but we cannot do anything about transport, which is completely blocked,” he said, adding that as a Kashmiri he was used to a lockdown and could feel the pain. “Every year, we would see this crisis for two or three months, so we are used to it. We would stock up food and grains regularly as we knew it was coming. But right now, people are not used to it so I can understand the pain of my brothers and sisters,” he said.

As the distress calls became more frequent, MCLF realised that the crisis was bigger than they had imagined and made an appeal for small donations. They also requested people to help with food deliveries in their localities where individuals were stuck without any help.

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