As Ludhiana remains Punjab’s worst-hit Covid district in terms of both cases and deaths, a charity ambulance service, including its seven drivers and two Class IV workers, have become family for patients fighting the virus on their own.
Team Samvedna, that has been providing free ambulance services for unclaimed/unidentified bodies as well as those in need since 2009, with its office on the premises of Civil Hospital Ludhiana, stepped in at a time when the stigma regarding Covid was at its peak. The group estimates it has ferried bodies of around 480 Covid victims so far, more than half of the total deaths in Ludhiana district, making them one of the countless corona warriors being celebrated by The Indian Express as part of its Stories of Strength to mark the 26/11 anniversary — their spirit best capturing the courage that helped Mumbai bounce back.
Apart from ferrying bodies from hospitals to cremation grounds or graveyards, Team Samvedna’s members also carry out the last rites of victims who have no one else to do that for them. A trust with 80 members funds the service.
Jajpreet Singh, the ‘manager’ of the team, said the biggest credit for the ‘seva’ goes to their drivers and Class IV workers who handled the bodies without worrying about catching the infection.
“They stood like a rock, helping when even families of patients dithered. The drivers said they had helped ferry so many people who had died of other diseases, and that Covid couldn’t be a reason for backing out,” said Jajpreet. He gave the example of their driver Kuljinder, who reported for work despite having recovered from typhoid and despite his son having a heart condition. “None of them refused even once.”
Since April, Team Samvedna’s seven ambulances and three Shav Vahans (hearses) have been running 24X7, sometimes transporting bodies from Patiala’s Rajindra Hospital too, where serious patients from Ludhiana were referred. They also picked up the tab for cremation of 28 bodies as their families were too poor to pay for it.
Team Samvedna also distributed 50,000 sanitisers, 1 lakh masks, 40,000 pairs of gloves, 25,000 surgical caps and 4,000 PPE kits, and at the height of the peak, provided cooked meals to 4,000 people a day for 58 days. Two personal vehicles were pressed into service to help pick and drop blood donors.
Jajpreet said there were times when the team came under a lot of stress.
“But the message from our trustees was that we had to maintain our calm and continue the sewa, no matter what the provocation. Once, we carried out an old man’s cremation late in the night after his son refused to accompany the body. Later, he called us to say it wasn’t his father’s body but some stranger’s… It is probably due to the blessings we received from people that none of our team members got infected.”
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