Jitender Singh Shunty sprays disinfectant on bodies at the Seemapuri cremation ground in northeast Delhi, which is suited with blue protective gear and wearing a facial shell beneath his light yellow turban.
He needs to be faster than burned because corpses arrive faster. Patience is thin for families and friends of the deceased, who have tried to find hospital beds and oxygen that would save their relatives.
“We are doing everything we can to help these grieving families at least have a decent funeral of their loved ones,” he said as he hurried to attend to another ambulance which had just arrived with two bodies.
25 years ago, Singh Shunty established Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, to funeral in hospitals with unclaimed bodies.
The NGO turned its attention to Covid-19 victims last year, and since the start of April, when India experienced a resurgence in the virus, he and his 20 volunteers have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of bodies arriving. “Last year we cremated 967 bodies, we have already cremated 670 this month alone,” he said.
On Monday, India reported a 12 th straight day of over 300,000 new coronavirus cases, bringing its total number to less than 20 million, while Covid-19 deaths increased by 3,417 to 218,959– although many expect that the actual number is significantly higher.
The bodies are lined up inside the crematorium waiting for the funeral pyre to be put on.
“In the first week of April, we had 10 to 12 dead bodies coming for cremation every day. It went up to 40 to 50 per day by mid-April. Now we are cremating over 100 people daily. The other day we cremated 122 people on a single day,” Singh Shunty said.
Besides arranging funerals, Singh Shunty, a 58-year old, and his volunteers ferry people who have died without having even been hospitalized to fill their bodies. Dear families in need who cannot find an ambulance to take a body to the crematorium receive dozens of calls each day. The Narendra Modi Government was able to pass through the first wave of Covid 19 last year and did little to prepare for another wave, with efforts aimed at its immunization implementation.
Many states held elections, and large religious gatherings were permitted to proceed as scheduled. However, when a new strain of the virus appeared, hospitals were soon faced with long lines of patients outside and a lack of oxygen for those who needed it.
Volunteers like Singh Shunty stepped forward to help when it became apparent that the government’s response was inadequate. The fact that Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs are helping people in need despite their religious differences is seen as one of the few bright spots in a country where divisive politics has grown since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in 2014.About a dozen people gather outside Mohammad Waseem’s gas shop about 20km from Seemapuri. The question is all the same: when will the supply of oxygen come?
The 30-year-old guarantees that when he receives an archive he updates his WhatsApp status. Oxygen has become a valuable commodity in New Delhi and elsewhere in India. Hospitals turn patients away as their supplies of oxygen are exhausted, while certain patients are asked to set their own cylinders. Waseem was out of his way to find stock in this mad rush for oxygen.
“I would only keep oxygen at my shop for AC repairs but since the start of the month, I have been getting more supplies. People have been dying for lack of oxygen so I thought I should do something to help,” he said.
Every morning a large number of people are waiting outside his shop with empty cylinders. Some traveled up to sixty kilometers. For a meagre 100 Rupees ($1.81), Waseem is filling her cylinders again.
“Some people tell me I will get infected if I keep going out and meeting so many people who have Covid-19 patients at home. To be honest, I’m scared of it. But then if I don’t help these people in need, it will haunt me all my life,” Waseem said.
The oxygen demand has passed through the roof in a virus-polluted city. The black market can cost a cylinder full of oxygen, which most Indians can afford to pay, up to fifty thousand rupees. Indians have also turned to black markets in the desperate attempt to keep their loved ones alive by buying life-saving medications and even unexpected treatments at inflated prices. And con men took advantage of the despair, two reportedly arrested as oxygen cylinders for selling fire extinctors.
In recent weeks, Priyanka, which requested her name only, could barely leave her kitchen since the new lock-in was imposed in New Delhi. Every evening, before her husband goes out, she prepares 30-40 food tiffins to deliver them to Covid-19, mostly students, who quarantine alone at home. At a time when she mostly feels helpless, she said that gives her some consolation.
“This is the least we can do at the moment for people who are fighting the virus and also keeping others safe by staying at home,” the 32-year-old South Delhi resident said.
She went on to say that when the administration does not achieve this, people have the obligation to help one another.
“We cannot give up. We have to be strong even though the situation is very grim.”
Source: South China Morning Post