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‘I Was Separated From My Children’

How Covid-19 – and the government’s travel ban – has torn families apart

By Alley Pascoe

In a week when the travel ban from India continued to make headlines, we asked three Indian Australian women – one of whom is now stranded in India – how they’re coping in a heartbreaking situation.

“I missed my daughter’s first steps”

Gurharman Kaur Gill, 26, a nurse, came to Australia in 2014 as a student. She lives in Melbourne 

“In late 2019, my husband took our children to visit their grandparents in India. At the time, my youngest daughter was nine months old and the eldest was two. I was at breaking point trying to juggle work and raising little ones with no help. We’d planned for my parents in Punjab to look after the kids for three months before bringing them back to Melbourne. Then the pandemic hit.

I realised we had made a mistake by leaving the kids in India, but we thought the Covid-19 crisis would be over soon. Also, I was working as a nurse in Melbourne and didn’t want to expose them to the virus here.

As time went on and we realised the pandemic was nowhere near over, I knew I had to be with my kids. I couldn’t wait any longer, it was too emotionally hard for me. I applied for an exemption to travel in September 2020, and finally made it to India three months ago. My husband stayed in Melbourne and it was a hard choice which one of us would go.


I didn’t want to expose them to the virus

All up, I was separated from my children for 16 months and I missed out on so much. When my youngest daughter left, she was just crawling – now she’s running everywhere and talking. The first time I saw her, she didn’t come to me because she was so attached to her grandparents. That crushed my heart. Even now after three months here, she’s still more inclined towards them than me.

I know it will be hard for the kids to leave their grandparents when we do return to Melbourne. If the borders were open, we would have brought my parents to make the transition easier. It’s scary for me to leave my parents here alone, as well.

When I left for India, I only applied for four weeks off work, thinking we’d be back within the month, but there were so many people trying to get back to Australia that it was hard to get flights. We were booked to return to Melbourne on a repatriation flight on May 30. When the travel ban was announced, I couldn’t do anything for a few days. I was so stressed and sad. The kids miss their dad – they haven’t seen him since February 2020, except for our daily video calls.  Thank god for video calls.

Now we’re just waiting for the ban on repatriation flights to be lifted on May 15. That’s all I can do: wait and hope.”

“Everyone knows someone who’s died”

Soumya Indurti, 34, is the founder and CEO of Connect Labs in Melbourne 

“My parents live on the outskirts of Bangalore in an apartment complex. One of the apartment blocks near them has a lot of Covid-19 cases. People are worried the virus is airborne and coming through the plumbing. Everyone’s terrified.

Mum and Dad are in lockdown and only leave the house for their morning walk, and even then, they wear a mask and wash their clothes when they get home. They order their groceries online and have them delivered to the balcony because they don’t want anyone to enter the premises.

They were recently vaccinated, and it was such a relief, but I still fear the worst with the new variants being discovered. I’m an only child and I hate that I can’t go over and look after them. I’ve been in Australia for 10 years, but I’m used to seeing my parents once a year for at least three months.

Soumya Indurti CREDIT: Supplied

I have friends whose parents have Covid-19, so we’re all checking in on each other. Everyone knows someone who’s passed away.

In saying that, I think we need to understand the number of cases in context of the population. There’s a billion people in India, so the numbers are always going to be huge. The government didn’t ban Australians coming home from Italy or France when their numbers were high. What’s happening in India has become a political issue, when it’s a health issue. We shouldn’t be adding more sorrow to people who are already facing a whole lot of shit. It’s completely immoral.

For Australians wanting to help, I would encourage them to donate to Give India, who are working to support gaps in healthcare and meet critical needs. I would also tell people to check in on anybody with an Indian background to see how they’re going. It’s nice to know that someone cares.”

“My husband is stranded in India and I’m not coping”

Sush, 30, hasn’t seen her husband since last year 

“On my wedding day in February 2020, I was over the moon. My now-husband and I met in high school in India and were best friends. We went our separate ways after school, and I moved to Australia in 2010. But we reconnected a few years ago when I was trying to escape an abusive relationship here. He was the one who gave me to courage to leave and that’s how we became closer. I thought after all my struggles, I was finally going to be happy.

We’d planned our life together in Australia, rented an apartment in Melbourne and picked out furniture. I had our marriage certificate to apply for his residency here. But before my husband could make it to Australia, the country went into lockdown. Now the lease on our apartment is almost up and I’m afraid he’ll never get to see it; that we’ll never get our happy ending.

Since March, we’ve booked five separate flights for him to travel to Australia and they’ve all been cancelled. I’m struggling – mentally and physically. I lost a baby earlier this year and I was all on my own. I also have a medical condition which means I need regular blood transfusions. I need my husband here. I’m lonely. And I’m so worried about my husband’s health, I wake up with anxiety during the night. Even now when I’m speaking to you, I’m crying like a baby.


We applied for a travel exemption on compassionate grounds and when it was finally approved, the government announced the travel ban. I am devastated.

I know I wasn’t born in this country, but I earned my citizenship here, I work hard and share the Australian values. And now when I’m in pain, the government has left me on my own. Where is the compassion? No other countries in the world have left their citizens or their families to die.

I know the government is trying to protect us, but they have to understand we can’t be cut off from the rest of the world forever. They need to open their eyes and assess the situation wisely.

I fell in love with Australians’ compassion for nature and each other. Now I feel like I’ve wasted so many golden years of my life to a country that does not care for me.”


BY Alley Pascoe

Alley is a journalist and author who has written for Sunday Style, Stellar and marie claire

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