Hyderabad: Family isn’t always blood. It’s people who stick around you in tough times. The corona pandemic is proving this time and again. Such is the scare that even blood relations are playing safe when their dear ones die and it is left to utter strangers to perform the last rites.

The other day an ex-serviceman died at a hospital in Golconda. But none of the family members came forward to take away the body. The city based NGO, Helping Hand Foundation, rushed its ambulance to the hospital when it received a call from the desperate family to arrange for disposal of the body. But shockingly there were none from the bereaved family of the ex-service man at the hospital.

“When contacted on the phone, the family members told our volunteers to take the body to the graveyard and that they would join us there. We took the body to the Balapur graveyard reserved for Covid related deaths. But here again no one came despite several calls. After waiting for two hours we buried the body”, said Mujtaba Hasan Askari of HHF.

This is not an isolated case of families abandoning their loved ones who fall prey to corona. Even those dying of other causes are also facing this boycott by family members. A man in his mid-50s who died last week at Vijayanagar Colony was cremated after 24 hours as there was none to take responsibility. It was only after the son of the deceased, who lives in Dubai, telephoned to the HHF that things started moving. “The apartment owner did not allow us to enter the premises and it was only after the intervention of the police that he relented. The body was ultimately cremated at the Alwal shamshanghat”, Mr. Askari said.

The HHF, which has launched a dedicated last rites service for Covid and non-Covid victims, has disposed of at least 25 bodies during the last one month. The idea is to ensure a dignified farewell to the deceased when relatives and neighbours are showing indifference and hostility to the departed souls. Whoever the deceased may be, the HHF is taking care to provide the funeral services as per his/her faith.

Six brand new Tata Winger ambulances with state-of-the-art features have been launched in the city at a cost of Rs. 16.5 lakh. These ambulances are available round the clock to provide transportation from hospital to home and from home to the graveyard, crematorium or cemetery. They are equipped with collapsible stretchers, plastic sheets to cover the stretcher and adhere to highest sanitation standards as per the Central government guidelines. Moreover, the ambulances are connected with GPS and are monitored through a dedicated helpline – 9603540864/ 8977898706.

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“In case of Muslim covid deaths, the body is given ghusul as per pandemic guidelines, transported to the graveyard for namaz-e-janaza”, says Fareed Faheem, who looks after logistics at HHF.

All the drivers and helpers have been trained in emergency medical operations and provided PPEs, disinfectant sprayers, garbage bags for disposal of linen , PPEs, water cans, soaps. To ensure safety, the ambulances are fumigated after every trip.

On Saturday the HHF came to the rescue of a transgender, a Covid victim, admitted to the Gandhi Hospital. She was told by doctors to drink hot water but with her meagre finances she couldn’t afford a flask. “When we learnt about her problem, we rushed a volunteer with a flask. This simple act brought cheer to the patient”, Mr. Askari said.

Families who have availed the HHF services are a relieved lot. Apart from ensuring that the deceased are given a dignified farewell, the distressed families are not fleeced in any way. Those who can afford are charged just Rs. 3000 and not exceeding Rs.5000 depending on the distance. However, in case of the poor even this amount is waived off. “This is such a relief since some ambulance services in the city are charging anywhere between Rs. 15000 to Rs. 25,000 just to transport the body”, says Mr. Faheem.

Sometimes those abandoned by near ones are dear to remote ones.

J.S. Ifthekhar

J.S. Ifthekhar is a senior journalist with nearly four decades of experience. Ifthekhar cut his teeth in journalism at the Indian Express before he moved to The Hindu. He was also associated with the Siasat Daily, Telangana Today, Deccan Chronicle, Onlooker magazine, Newstrack, Detective Digest and a few news agencies. He has written on different subjects and aspects of Hyderabadi life. However, his passion remains literature in general and Urdu poetry in particular. He is equally concerned with culture, heritage, civic affairs and problems confronting the man in the street. As a journalist he has taken up cudgels on behalf of the underprivileged and many of his stories in The Hindu saw the government promptly taking corrective measures. Ifthekhar has authored two books - Hyderabad - The Nawabi City on The Move and Haj - The Spirit Behind it. He has also translated two books from Urdu to English. Currently he is working on his third book - Poets and Writers of Deccan.

Loves to write and writes to live. Can't imagine doing anything else.

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