BAREILLY, India — A bishop in India has condemned the spraying of migrant workers and their children with disinfectant, after a video posted to Twitter showed public health authorities doing exactly that.
The video was posted to Twitter Sunday. The Times of India reported that families at a bus stand in the northern Indian city of Bareilly were told to sit on the ground, and were then sprayed with a bleaching agent mixed with water.
In the video, parents and their children sat on the streets of Bareilly and are showered with a chemical solution of chlorine mixed with water. Men in hazmat suits can be heard telling the migrants to close their eyes and mouths.
Bishop Ignatius D’Souza of Bareilly said spraying migrant workers with disinfectant was inhumane.
"This is inhuman, because these people are poor and marginalized and desperate our migrants labourers and their families. Their dignity cannot be violated in this inhuman and shocking manner,” the bishop said, according to Asia News.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi placed the country on lockdown as cases of COVID-19 in India have reached 1,251. The lockdown has closed down borders and forced migrant workers in India’s largest cities to return home to their villages.
Ashok Gautam, an officer in charge of COVID-19 operations in northern India, told CNN that as many as 5,000 people have been similarly disinfected before being allowed to return home.
"We sprayed them here as part of the disinfection drive, we don't want them to be carriers for the virus and it could be hanging on their clothes, now all borders have been sealed so this won't happen again," he said.
Other government officials said the disinfectant was really meant for the buses and that the incident was a mistake. Lav Agarwal, an official of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said Monday that workers involved in the incidents have been reprimanded.
"This is an overzealous action done by some employees at the field level, either out of ignorance or fear," he said, according to CNN.
Bishop D’Souza emphasized the difficulties facing vulnerable people returning to their home villages, noting that the Church in Bareilly has been distributing food packets to those who arrive. He said they have delivered these packages to displaced people located at bus and train stations.
The bishop added that wealthy and well-known people with with COVID-19 have been treated differently than poor people in India, according to Asia News. He said everyone needs to be treated with human dignity.
“Each person has to be treated with human dignity, the celebrities who tested positive in India (who travelled to Lucknow), received best treatment, our poor people do not deserve this indignity, it's an affront against the dignity of the human person."