At a time when people are scared of performing the last rites of their loved ones due to fear, some good samaritans have come forward to ensure a dignified farewell for the COVID victims.
Piles of dead bodies are lying on the shores of the pious river Ganga. Shocking visuals have been doing rounds on social media. The muffled cries of the dead gag us across from the pictures. No wonder, this unsettling reality has left the nation reeling under effects of fear, anxiety, trauma, and pain. What has this world come to?
Reuters confirmed the discovery of Covid-19 dead bodies in Indian rivers after seeing a letter by the state government of Uttar Pradesh. According to local reports, nearly 100 corpses are dumped in river Ganga. Similarly, dead bodies were found floating in the Yamuna river near Hamirpur. The news led to panic among the local citizens about contracting the virus. It is sad to find that people are abandoning the dead bodies of their loved ones, possibly due to poverty, stigma and growing fear.
Amid this, some good samaritans are stepping up to ensure that the deceased gets dignified last rites. Regardless of religious and cultural differences, these volunteers perform the final rituals of the COVID dead bodies in different parts of the country. Putting their lives at stake, they do everything they can to bid a dignified farewell to the deceased. Bidar-based NGO Humanity First Foundation has been performing the last rites of COVID-19 patients ever since the pandemic broke out in 2020. It has performed the last rites of over 700 bodies so far. The NGO provides free services and runs on donations and the contributions made by its members.
A team of 40 men from the Ummat Foundation in Pune are working hard to provide dignified last rites to COVID-19 victims. Coming from modest backgrounds, these covid heroes including some auto-rickshaw drivers and mobile technicians have buried or cremated over 1,200 victims in Pune city. A group of young volunteers from Bhanjanagar are going the extra mile to serve society. Apart from providing burial to the dead, they are also performing last rites for the unclaimed bodies. Braving stigma amid pre-conceived notions of Indian society, 25 women from NGOs, Swaroop Vardhni and Seva Sahayog in Pune, took it upon themselves to help arrange burials at the crematoriums.
Here I Am group from Bengaluru is helping arrange burials for the dead bodies since last year. The group has already buried around 800 bodies in the past month. One of the volunteers named Tina Cherian shares, “Once the ambulance comes in, about 5 to 6 of us take a trolley/stretcher and get the body out of the ambulance. If the body is too heavy, we shift it into a body bag and then onto a stretcher. Then the body is carried to the burial site, and we lower the coffin once the priest completes the prayers.” She mentions the act takes a lot of effort and precaution. “Initially, it was difficult to wear the PPE suits and carry out the work in the scorching heat. Sometimes, it also gets physically straining,” added the final year medical student.
The Youth Welfare organization has been actively performing the last rites for the COVID dead bodies for over a year. Despite challenges, the team of 10 volunteers has put more than 1900 corpses of different faiths to rest. One of its members, Syed Zafar, shared, “Our families are supportive of our work. That has been a big relief.” Recounting a harrowing experience of cremating an unclaimed dead body, he said, “When we were performing its last rites, we found it full of insects. We were shocked.” However, this didn’t dampen their spirits as they continue to give dignity to the dead. “Every human deserves respect after they pass away. It is their right and we are just doing our duty,” he added.
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The workload of these volunteers has more than doubled during the second wave of the pandemic. While they are battling the challenge of burying corpses of COVID patients, their mental health has gone for a toss. Although their thankless job is giving them satisfaction, on days, it does take better of them. And yet, they head over to do that one job, donning their PPE suits and a warm smile, that makes them feel more humane. They aren’t stepping down anytime soon and would continue performing last rites for as long as they can.
The grim reality of dead bodies dumped in water bodies has raised a crucial concern regarding environmental problems. Some people opine that these bodies would contaminate the rivers and further spread the virus. However, this might be only partially true. According to Satish Tare, professor at IIT-Kanpur, in his conversation with LiveMint, the dumping of bodies would pollute the rivers. But, this wouldn’t contribute to the transmission of the disease. Health experts suggest that the coronavirus spreads through the air in close contact. And there’s no proven evidence of running water being the route of transmission for the virus. However, this can lead to other possible contaminations that can risk people drawing water directly out of the river Ganga. The Centre has already asked the states situated along the river to be more vigilant and keep a tab on people dumping bodies into the river or its tributaries. While the ordeal for administration and medical fraternity continues, these volunteers have shown up like families to people they have never known. Ensuring that they could get their last moments would be dignified and peaceful. Bringing solace and comfort to the bereaved family. Something our time needs to most.