Published on People Move

Shifting contours of care: How UK Indian diasporas give and receive care in the time of COVID-19

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The surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths in India has had a global impact, especially among the country’s 18 million diasporans. The significant UK-based Indian population is confronting new trauma. Even as they struggle to cope with the socio-economic and health aftermaths of the pandemic in the UK, they are mobilising to send money and arrange for the purchase of medical supplies and support for their families, friends and communities in India.

Our research project, Connecting during COVID-19, is exploring the repercussions of the pandemic on local and transnational caring practices of Indian, Brazilian and Somali communities in the UK. The Indian community in London and Glasgow can be seen as ‘many small Indias’ where deprivation and success co-exist. It includes both newly arrived migrants and long-settled intergenerational communities and is varied in terms of faith, ethnicity and language as well as economic success, immigration status and wider well-being indicators. 

The most vulnerable during the pandemic are the low paid, those with unsettled immigration status, elders and international students. Students report experiencing hunger and difficulty in paying rent and university fees. Those who are not from upper or middle-class backgrounds are adversely impacted by being unable to work to support themselves due to lockdowns. Our interviews reveal horrific levels of overcrowding: one London-based student reported sharing accommodation with 26 people to keep rents low. Students’ dependence on local food banks has risen in both London and Glasgow. Isolation, loneliness, depression and worry are widespread. 

These experiences are shared by people who have struggled to balance (un)employment with caring responsibilities. Ineligibility for government furlough schemes has led to some taking risks of exposing themselves to the virus by becoming ‘key workers’. Women have reported increases in domestic violence, also noted in wider research, and attributed this to perpetrators’ alcohol dependency and to hastily arranged living arrangements as lockdowns loomed. One research participant told us: “with my partner being at home [the] whole day, it was absolutely like I couldn’t find help in any way, shape or form. At that point, I was pretty much on my own.” 

Family and friends in India played a vital role supporting these communities during the UK pandemic’s peak, with reverse remittances sent from India. However, such support invokes feelings of humiliation for many. “It's like a shame for me,” said one participant. “Even if it's my parents, it’s like a shame for me, it's such a bad thing. Calling my mum and dad saying, “I need money, I need money.” While online social contact provides solace for some, often the people we speak with keep their worries and problems to themselves to avoid causing their loved ones to worry. Community organisations, often run by better resourced and connected members of the UK Indian diaspora, provide invaluable support including food parcels; paying cash deposits to landlords; providing advice and translation for accessing services. These are significant contributions towards caring for others and creating spaces of care.

As the eye of the COVID-19 storm has moved to wreak havoc in India, and the UK appears to be entering a period of respite, the geographies of care provision are shifting again. While their own economic hardship means that some are unable to help their families back home, The Times of India recently reported that the UK Indian diaspora raised £100,000 (INR 10 million) for relief in just a few hours.  The pandemic has demonstrated time and again the irrelevance of borders and the interconnectedness of care giving and receiving.  


Kavita Datta

Professor of Development Geography, Queen Mary University of London

Saliha Majeed-Hajaj

Research Associate, Queen Mary University and SOAS University of London

Laura Hammond

Professor of Development Studies, SOAS University

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