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In UT, student volunteers cremate Covid victims: ‘It’s just us and the deceased in the final moments…’

A handful of students in Chandigarh have offered their services to the local Red Cross Society to handle the remains of Covid-19 patients. Till date, these volunteers have together cremated around 18 patients as per the Covid protocol.

Written by Hina Rohtaki | Chandigarh |
July 10, 2020 11:54:07 am
Chandigarh, COVID-19, COVID-19 Victims, Burial Volunteers in PPE kits bring the body of Covid victim at Sector 25 LPG crematorium in Chandigarh. Express Photo: Jaipal Singh

It is 11 am. Satish, a 19-year-old Class 12 student of Government Model School, Sector 32, is busy with his online class when his lesson is interrupted by a phone call that makes him rush out on his Activa. It’s a call from the Red Cross office and Satish has been summoned to help cremate the body of a Covid-19 patient.

This teenager is among a handful of students from Chandigarh who offered their services after local Red Cross Society sought volunteers to handle the remains of Covid-19 patients last month.

In this list of volunteers, Satish is the youngest. Till date, these volunteers have together cremated around 18 patients as per the Covid protocol.

Mohammad Amzad, a BA (final year) student of Government College, Sector 11, is Satish’s fellow volunteer. A resident of Baltana, Amzad admits that initially they were a little scared. He added that what helped them conquer their fears in the end was the feeling of being like the deceased’s “only family” with them in their final journey.

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“That feeling of being the victim’s family gives you the courage. It’s just us and the deceased in the final moments. The family members stay behind….It’s difficult to put it into words, but we feel a sense of responsibility towards the deceased. This is what keeps us going,” he told The Indian Express.

To begin with, the youngsters also had to contend with resistance from their worried parents.

“We have to get the body from the mortuary and take it to the cremation ground for cremation. Our parents felt it was a risky task. But once they were assured of our safety, they began to feel proud of us,” says Amzad, 24.

But in the end, it is not an easy procedure from beginning till the end. These youngsters have to follow an intensive Covid protocol before every cremation.

Rohit (26), a resident of Sector 45, Burail, who is doing his Masters in Social Work from IGNOU and is also a President awardee, said that they were first provided training on how to handle the bodies along with the pre and post sanitisation procedure.

Amzad adds, “We are called one hour before the body is to be taken out from the mortuary. We all have Activas. So we first come to the Red Cross office. Then we are given something hot to eat like very hot tea along with some eatables. Then we wear our PPE kits, shoes and other protective gear.”

While the youngsters prepare for the task ahead, an ambulance gets ready to take them to the mortuary.

Once ready, these youngsters are taken to the mortuary, be it PGI or Government Multi Speciality Hospital in Sector 16, in the ambulance. From the mortuary, they carry the body to another ambulance meant to carry it to the cremation ground, and then, they return to their own ambulance.

Rohit revealed that a Covid-19 victim’s body is already packed in three layers.

As they reach the Sector 25 cremation ground, four volunteers immediately carry the body to area where it is to be cremated.

Surinder, Municipal Corporation employee who stays in Sector 25, is tasked with readying the LPG-based furnace where the body is cremated. He stays ready in his PPE kit until the body reaches the cremation ground and then cremation is done in the presence of all of them.

But there is another battle post cremation.

Satish explains, “There is a tanker at the cremation ground itself where we sanitise ourselves, like our shoes and other material. Then after the entire sanitisation, we sit back in the ambulance and take our Activa from the office. In the meantime, our families ready warm water for our bath. I tell my family not to come near me or even in the washroom as I take a shower.”

They said that all of them stay away from their family and friends and isolate themselves for at least seven days in one room of their house.

Rohit stated that the need to serve the society brought all of them here at this task while risking their lives. “There were times when Amzad was observing his Rozas and cremation of Covid body came up. But it’s just our need to serve people that has brought us here. I just want to say that people are taking Covid-19 really lightly. We have seen Covid deaths in front of us and how even the actual family is not able to see the last rites or the victim even last time. I appeal people to please stay safe,” Rohit said.

Satish Kumar Tank, Training Supervisor from Indian Red Cross Society, Chandigarh, said that this was such a work for which only these youngsters came forward, while many stayed away.

“There are many volunteers with our Red Cross Department for blood donation and various other tasks, but when we told about this mission it was these students who came forward to do it. We trained them thoroughly about the protocol,” he said.

While these young Red Cross volunteers have also worked as the first aid providers during accident cases, but this mission, they say, is something they will remember throughout their lives.

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