The stigma and fear surrounding coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is not only hampering efforts to conduct the last rites of those who have died due to the infection, it also posing hurdles in conducting the last rites of those who have died of other illnesses or natural causes.
Mulnivasi Muslim Manch, an organisation headed by Anjum Inamdar, is one of the groups in Pune which have been performing the last rites of Covid-19 patients, as well as those who have died of other illnesses in the last two months. The group has performed the last rites of about 30 persons belonging to various communities, said Inamdar.
The group performs the last rites of those whose family members are either not willing to accept the bodies due to fear, or are unable to perform the rituals due to societal pressures or logistical issues amid the ongoing lockdown.
“There are many cases where the person has died due to some other reason, or even due to old age, but people are not willing to participate in the funeral or help the family,” said Inamdar.
According to activists, performing funerals in case of non-Covid deaths is more challenging as there is no support from civic bodies, as is the case with coronavirus-related deaths.
“We have seen and assisted in many cases where the deaths had no connection with Covid-19 but the family found it difficult to conduct the last rites. The family members are wary of stigma and societal response. When neighbours and relatives run away… they ask us to do the needful,” said Inamdar.
He cited the example of a senior citizen from Maharshi Nagar, who died last week after a prolonged illness. The son and the daughter-in-law of the 65-year-old man were trying to make arrangements for his cremation, but failed to get any help from neighbours and relatives. “The body lay there for six hours before someone from the area called us and we reached there to help. The cremation was finally performed in the local crematorium,” said Inamdar.
In another case, villagers from Kedgaon, on the outskirts of Pune, opposed efforts by the family of a man, who died of cardiac arrest at Sassoon General Hospital, to bring his body back to Kedgaon to perform the last rites. “The daughter of the man then asked us to perform the last rites,” said Inamdar.
As it has been receiving an increasing number of such requests, the Manch has procured a vehicle to use it as a hearse so that it doens’t have to request ambulance owners for help each time. “Many a times, getting a vehicle to transport the body from the hospital to the burial ground or a crematorium becomes a challenge. We have now got a hearse, which we are using for speedy transport and timely cremation,” said Inamdar.
On Friday, the volunteers of Mulnivasi Muslim Manch were felicitated by the Gurudwara Guru Nanak Sahab at Pune Camp. The head of the Gurudwara, Charan Singh Sahani, handed over personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to the group as a token of appreciation for the work that the group was doing for the community “at great personal risk”.
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