Durban - SADHANA Ryan is stranded in the Dhar Desert in Rajasthan, India. All she wants is to return home to South Africa, to cuddle with her granddaughter whose birth she missed.
Ryan, 54, of Kempton Park, Gauteng, is one of more than 200 South Africans in various parts of India, who cannot leave as both countries have shut their borders and stopped air travel.
Ryan was one of those who could not catch a scheduled flight home. It has now been six weeks that she is stranded and, despite attempts to get help from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), she remains in India.
Just over a week ago, she started an online petition calling for Dirco to repatriate stranded South Africans. Within a short space of time, she had the support of 2 500 people.
In February this year, Ryan, a businesswoman, took a sabbatical from work and decided to travel through India. While there, she met the members of a women’s empowerment group.
Sadhana Sharon Ryan outside the bungalow where she is staying, in Dhar Desert in Rajasthan, India.
“They were an NGO, and I joined them on March 2. I decided to assist them with branding their organisation so they could get funding from the government. In the same month, we took a trip to the Dhar Desert in Rajasthan, and a few days later, we were informed of the lockdown.”
Ryan said she needed a permit to leave the desert.
Ryan’s bedroom in the bungalow.
“Since then, we have not been given direction on how to apply for the permit. I was one of 32 volunteers. I am now the last one left here. The rest were European, and they were repatriated by their embassies within the first two weeks of the lockdown, which started on March 22.”
She said living in the desert was difficult.
“I am lucky I am not staying in a tent but a bungalow. I get my food from a nearby vegetable stall. I have access to proper ablution facilities. But I am suffering from heat intolerance with temperatures soaring to 40 degrees and above. I’m beset with heat exhaustion and heat stroke to the point of barely being able to function.”
Ryan said she understood repatriating many people from different locations in a foreign country had logistical challenges, but she was disappointed that Dirco was not communicating with her.
“What is most frustrating is the department’s lack of communication. Medications have run out. And finances are about to.
“Emotions are running high. Negativity is spiralling. Depression is setting in. Will it take the loss of one of our lives to mobilise Dirco into action? This lack of empathy, transparency, and communication is tantamount to violating our human rights as South African citizens.”
Ryan said she felt heartbroken when she missed the birth of her first grandchild in April.
“I just broke down when I was sent her picture. All I can think about is going home to hold her.”
Another South African, Reshma Lad, sits by her phone every day, hoping for news that will result in her husband Ashokumar Jagivan Lad and their five-year-old son, Aadi Ashok Lad, returning to South Africa.
Lad, of Lenasia, said her husband was an Indian national. In March, he travelled to his home in Gujarat State to visit his ill father.
“He took our son to see the family. They were supposed to come back on April 5 via Air Seychelles, but their flights were grounded. Since then, I have been trying to get help from Dirco to bring them back.”
Lad said her son was struggling without her. “He misses me. Every day he is in tears because he cannot come home. As a mother, it hurts because I cannot comfort him. I wish our government would see the pain our families are going through.”
Pravienna Naidoo, of Gauteng, said she could not wait to see her mother, Neela Naidoo, 76, of Musgrave, and aunt, Sushiela Appanna, 69, of Silverglen in Chatsworth.
Neela travelled to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh nine weeks ago to be with her 19-year-old grandson, Shrivaan Naidoo during his university exams. Her sister, Sushiela, accompanied her.
Shrivaan is studying Vedic Science at the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha University.
“They were unable to get their flight back home via Air Mauritius due to the lockdown. They are lucky because they are safe with my nephew. They have access to necessities, but they are restless and want to come home.”
Naidoo said they heard via social media about other families who were stranded in India.
“We tried Dirco, but there is no feedback. We tried the South African Embassy in Delhi, but they cannot act until they get the go-ahead from Dirco.”
Saber Ahmed Jazbhay, a human rights lawyer, said very little had been done to assist travellers.
“There are more than 200 people who need assistance. I have been working on this matter for the past two weeks. The department tells me they will escalate the repatriation, but nothing is being done. If this continues, I will seek action against the department. This is totally unacceptable.”
Lunga Ngqengelele, a spokesperson for Dirco, said it was a challenge to repatriate South Africans because most airlines were grounded due to the global lockdown.
“Those stranded in India are not the only travellers. There are other South Africans in other countries that are also waiting. We are trying our best to get flights to bring back our people. We will be in touch with them once it is finalised.”
The Indian High Commission in
Pretoria could not be reached for comment.