Hyderabad: An American civil rights activist Johnnie Cochran once quoted, “We’ve got to be judged by how we do in times of crisis.” Amidst this health crisis, a group of Telangana-based youngsters is defying stigma to give dignified burials to those who died of COVID-19, that too free of cost.
Youth Welfare Telangana (YWT), headed by Syed Jalaluddin Zafar, with as many as 50 volunteers came forward bravely to conduct the final rites of the dead, irrespective of their religion. At least 170 dead bodies, all over Telangana, are laid to rest by the volunteers of the organization. Among them, the majority were Muslims and there were over 15 Hindus, one Christian, and one Sikh.
‘Deceased deserve respect’
Zafar, while speaking to siasat.com said, “It is an insult to the whole life of the deceased person if the final rites are not taken up with dignity. One cannot ostracize the dead body or dump it, even if they died of COVID-19. The whole point of our service is to respectfully lay the dead body to rest for humanity’s sake.”
“The first burial was that of a friend’s father. Due to fear surrounding the COVID-19 dead body, along with financial constraints, the friend ran away without arranging for his burial. I, along with a few friends, buried the body after necessary religious rituals. This is our 55th day of conducting burials. Yesterday, we buried as many as ten bodies,” said Zafar.
“For Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians too, the final rites are taken up according to their respective rituals,” he said.
The YWT team consists of small businessmen, doctors, advocates among others. Every morning, after their regular prayers, the members warm-up, sanitize themselves, and venture outside on their work at graveyards. Access Foundation provided the team with an ambulance for taking the dead bodies to the burial grounds. A Hyderabad-based social activist also gave them a vehicle for transport.
The organization, however, only conducts burials of the claimed bodies after getting necessary NOCs from the hospitals. The families in distress approach them via phone and social media.
“We have a volunteer group of 30 in Tandoor, who undertook 19 burials so far. Right now, we are eyeing to expand our services and build our volunteer base in Adilabad, Nizamabad, and Mahbubnagar,” Zafar says.
‘The looting must stop’
Zafar states that the families of the deceased are being charged Rs. 25,000 for transporting the dead bodies to the burial grounds and conducting final rites.
“In the 170 burials we took up, the maximum cost per burial was not more than Rs. 7,000. The GHMC staff involved in the process is looting the families, which is also the reason why many of the bodies are left unclaimed at the hospitals,” he says. “To top it all off, the bodies are just being dumped into the graves with least respect.”
“This business around dead bodies must stop,” he concludes.