The crisis is widespread, from hospitals lacking oxygen and other medical supplies needed to treat patients, to people losing their jobs, leaving them unable to buy food or pay rent, to crematoriums working around the clock to keep up with the flood of bodies.
And with the Indian government pushed to the brink, outside organisations have stepped up to provide cash assistance, food and healthcare.
Google, whose CEO Sundar Pichai was born in India, has donated Rs 135 crore (approximately US$18.5 million) to Give India and Unicef to support people impacted by the pandemic in India, while Facebook has committed US$10 million to emergency response efforts.
Nike has announced a US$250,000 donation to be shared equally between United Way Worldwide and Save the Children, and the H&M Foundation has announced a US$100,000 donation to Red Cross India.
Announcing its €3 million (approximately US$3.7 million) donation to Médecins Sans Frontières last week, the Ikea Foundation’s CEO Per Heggenes urged more countries and organisations to step up.
“We all need to come together and do our part to stop the spread of Covid-19 and support ongoing life-saving medical activities in India,” he said.
“Today, I call on the world’s governments, businesses and philanthropies to join us and increase the relief support for the people of India.”
An employee support fund
Australian businesses that have ties to India have also joined the relief efforts.
Womenswear brand Forever New has built up a significant store network in India since it entered the market in 2008. With its stores and head office now closed due to the pandemic, the retailer is focused on supporting its team.
“Forever New has created a Covid support fund in India to help all employees and their families through this terrible crisis,” Carolyn Mackenzie, Forever New’s managing director, told Inside Retail.
This includes covering the cost of Covid tests and critical medicines, purchasing oxygen concentrators in select cities to aid employees and their families who need immediate care, and assisting retail teams with funding for ambulance support and cremations if necessary.
“The management team in India has been supporting employees with anything they need from finding hospital beds to providing mental health services. In terms of financial support, all employees have continued to receive 100 per cent of their wages,” she said.
Mackenzie believes that even businesses that don’t directly employ people in India have a role to play in the relief efforts.
“The crisis in India is a global crisis that impacts all of us. As a global business, we are fortunate to be able to provide financial support to our colleagues, families and friends in India who are experiencing such tragedy during this devastating period,” she said.
Important to address the emotional toll
Kinzu Brands, which owns women’s shoe brand Sol Sana and accessories brand From St Xavier, has been manufacturing in India for years, and has been in contact with its partners in the region on a daily basis.
“We feel strongly about providing support to our partners in India and have been donating in the hope it will assist in the war against Covid,” Chris Perkins, Kinzu’s head of brands, told Inside Retail.
“While financial aid is needed, the emotional toll the crisis has created is also important to address, hence we have meetings with the team on a regular basis to check in and listen to their concerns.”
For Perkins, an important action businesses can take is to simply maintain their commercial relationships with partners in India.
“It is vital for the industry to maintain partnerships with India. We see our partners as family as they have been with the brand since our inception. We understand the importance of trade to the livelihoods of our staff in India and the economic impact the crisis is having on the economy. There are several suppliers in various countries we could source our products from, however they would not align with our core values and ethos,” he said.
“We are committed to our long-standing partnerships in India and encourage our industry partners to do the same.”
Even $1 can make a difference
For people and organisations outside of India, it can be hard to know how to help, as Aman Gupta, the head of experience at SAARI Collective, a next-generation media company promoting South Asian Australian stories, acknowledged.
“There is a bit of a state of helplessness – you can’t fly over and help, so it can be a challenge trying to work out what’s the best way to assist from such a great distance,” he said.
But as Jessi Singh, the acclaimed chef and owner behind ‘unauthentic Indian’ restaurant Daughter in Law, pointed out, even a small donation can make a difference.
“Literally, $1 can save a life in India,” he told Inside Retail.
“That can equate to one meal, or a painkiller, so it’s so important for us to support India right now. Any money will help massively.”
Singh, who is originally from the Punjab region of India, said he has lost count of the number of people he knows who have died from Covid in India. Over the last few weeks, he has mobilised his wholesale partners there to deliver food to people in need around the country.
Next month, he will launch his third Daughter in Law location in Byron Bay and will donate 100 per cent of the proceeds from opening night to charities providing food and medical supplies in India.
“This is the time to put the profit and numbers to the side and come together to support your community,” he said. “In the long run, they’ll remember that you helped.”