On the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti today, Anjum Inamdar, who heads the Mul Nivasi Muslim Manch, will be honoured with the Mahatma Gandhi Puraskar by the Rugna Seva Samiti for his outstanding work during the pandemic.
What does the award mean to you and your team?
We feel honoured. Our work during the pandemic is being honoured. Our organisation has been working for two decades but during this pandemic, when families were not stepping forward to cremate or bury their near and ones who died of Covid-19, it came as a challenge to our team. And we accepted the challenge with pride and honour.
In the last six-seven months, how many bodies of Covid-19 patients have you disposed of ?
Our team must have disposed of over 500 bodies. We have cremated and buried bodies of people from different religions and castes. We have carried out this task not only in Pune city, but across Pune district, Pimpri-Chinchwad and even at far-off places like Mahableshwar and Panchgani.
How big is your team?
We have 22 members in the team. Twelve members are available on the phone 24X7. Our team reaches the cremation or burial place within 20 minutes of receiving the call.
How do you conduct the last rites of a body?
The rituals during last rites are carried out as per the religious faith of the deceased
Why did you take up this work?
In the initial stages of the pandemic, there were reports that family members were afraid of turning up for the funeral, for fear of getting infected by coronavirus. Only one or two family members were turning up. We had heard that in some cases, no family member turned up. We decided to take up the responsibility of giving the deceased a decent and dignified cremation or burial.
Till May, family members were hardly coming forward for the last rites. Now, things are changing. These days, for any funeral, quite a few family members are present.
How much do you charge for each cremation or burial?
This work is done free of cost. It is for the sake of humanity. It is done with the belief that these people should get dignity in death. In fact, the PMC had floated a tender for Rs 28 lakh for awarding us the contract. We rejected the tender and we protested against it. We said we will not charge anything.
What precautions are taken before you cremate or bury the body?
We ensure that the bodies are properly wrapped in plastic as per the norms. Our members wear PPE suits. We also ensure that before the last rites, the face of the victim is visible to the relatives. Even when journalist Pandurang Raikar died, we had kept his face uncovered for the last darshan to family and friends.
What is your message to those relatives who do not come forward to cremate or bury their near and dear ones?
There is no threat to the living from the dead. The dead do not cough or sneeze to spread the virus. The real threat is from those who are don’t wear masks, those who do not maintain social distancing and those who do not wash their hands regularly. How can the bodies spread the virus? The bodies are tightly wrapped and two hours later, the virus does not exist. People should not be afraid of the dead. Let’s give them a dignified cremation or burial.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines