On April 23, 40-year-old Zainuddin Pinjari put out an emotional social media post saying he was ready to mortgage his house and car to raise money to feed Malegaon’s poor. Three days later, on April 26, Pinjari, slumped over and died at his home. Hours earlier, he had complained of breathing diffculty. It is yet to be confirmed if he had succumbed to COVID-19.
Pinjari, a former electrician-turned-social worker, had set up a COVID-19 mutual aid group for the poor residents of Malegaon, explaining to them the seriousness of the pandemic and the need for physical distancing in colonies where 10 to 15 people ended up staying cramped up in 100 to 150 sq ft areas.
Pinjari and his band of volunteers provided food and monetary support in these colonies of powerloom workers whose source of income had dried up. Last month, Pinjari had decided to sell his land to raise Rs 5 lakh to feed the poor. His insistent work and decision to move around the poor localities of Malegaon, helping and feeding the poor, had made his own family warn him against returning home. He bunked in a nearby room.
Malegaon in Nashik district, with a population of 6 lakh, registered its first COVID-19 case and death on April 8, and has since emerged as a hotspot with 229 cases and 12 deaths until Sunday. There has, however, been no COVID-19 death, as per official records, since April 27.
“We were using all necessary precautions like masks, sanitisers and maintaining social distance. Our aim was to ensure that the residents of Malegaon understood the severity of the problem and complied with lockdown norms. Our work, however, meant that even our families were afraid of what we were doing. Zainuddin”s family had asked him to not step into the family home and operate from an adjacent room where our group would eat and sleep,” said Mohammed Akeel who worked with Pinjari.
In a conversation with The Indian Express before his death, Pinjari had said that he was risking his life to ensure that the poor in the city were aware of the dangers that the virus held and were prepared to face the situation.
“My family moved to Malegaon after we were uprooted from a nearby village post 2001 riots. This city and its people gave us lot of love and support when all that we had were the clothes on our back. I am only trying to return the favour,” he had said month.
He also helped to move two unclaimed bodies to the civil hospital that led to the deterioration of his health, and his friend Akeel said he fell ill soon afterward.
“There were two deaths in the area and people were a bit hesitant in taking the unclaimed bodies to the hospital. Zainuddin and me, however, moved the bodies while maintaining adequate precautions. However, a few days later, his health started deteriorating,” said Akeel.
As the number of coronavirus patients spread, the healthcare facilities in Malegaon also went under a voluntary lockdown with doctors hesitant in attending to patients. Pinjari’s family claimed that the physician whom they had approached after Pinjari complained of breathing problems had asked him to stay put at home.
“The physician that we approached told Pinjari that he should stay at home and he would feel all right. A day later, Zainuddin passed away,” Salahuddin Shaikh, a family friend of Pinjari, said.
While there has been no confirmation on whether Pinjari had contracted the virus, his entire extended family has now been quarantined. His friends said that once they are out, they will carry on with his work. “Malegaon is facing an immense challenge. Things are likely to get worse. Had he been around, he would have doubled up his efforts. Once we step out, we will continue with his work,” Akeel said.