Mercy Angels rush in to help perform last rites of those who die of COVID

Regardless of faith of the deceased, the NGO activists have been organising final rites of those dying due to Covid-related affliction in Bengaluru.

M. A. Siraj

Mercy Angels, a wing of the Mercy Mission, has earned reputation for performing what others have been afraid of undertaking in these turbulent times. 

The NGO which came into existence in the wake of its parent organization engaging itself in combating hunger in Bengaluru, is credited with performing final rites of 65 of the 67 persons whose deaths were caused due to Covid-19 in the city till last Sunday. Besides, it has also ferried several dozens of corpses of non-COVID patients to city’s cemeteries and the crematoria.  

Attached to the Hazrath Bismillah Shah (HBS) Hospital in the City’s Cantonment area, the Mercy Angels have tied up with City’s municipal body BBMP, to take bodies of those who died consequent to Covid-related affliction in city’s hospitals. Even as the dread of infection keeps away even the closest of kin from the Covid afflicted patients, the six-member team headed by social worker Mr. Mehdi Kaleem has shouldered the onerous task of arranging the final rites of the mortal remains during the last three months.

Supervised by HBS Director Dr. Taha Mateen, the Mercy Angels has tied up with BBMP which speedily clears the papers for discharge of corpses from the mortuaries. The six-member team gears up by donning the PPE soon after a call is received from the Ambulance 108 Service. The corpses are wrapped in three protective layers and then ferried to either the crematorium or the graveyard as per the faith of the deceased.

Kaleem is assisted by Dr. Shariq Rafeeq, Ayub Jaffer Khan (both 43); B. S. Veeresh, 45; Sheikh Imran, 35; Shabbir, 30; Shah Imdad Ali alias Chhotu, 27. The crematoria which would have received the intimation from the BBMP, would keep the trolley ready at the ramp for the corpse to be rolled into the furnace. Since, no relatives are allowed to touch or see the deceased, the scene is grim, with near and dear ones watching the entire operation from a distance with both grief and fear writ large on their faces. However, in some cases, the team has even noticed conspicuous absence of the next of the kin due to fear of infection.

As for the corpses of Muslim patients, the procedural formalities are a bit different. Since the conventional bath cannot be performed, tayammum (or waving of mud across the face and hands) is done before wrapping the body into protective covers. The graves are dug up to ten feet deep and the body is lowered into the grave by holding the corners of a long sheet of cloth by four persons. Even the sheets are placed over the body. As for the funeral prayers, the body is kept at a distance before the imam.

The Mercy Angels team has won wide appreciation and gratitude of the families who were gripped with fear and grief in handling a task that necessitated human involvement with attendant risks. 

Kaleem says several families have offered service charges, but they have declined to accept any. The PPEs and sanitisers are provided by the civic authorities and the ambulance, be it from the 108 or the HBS’s own, have to be stationed for sanitization for 16 hours after each such operation.

M.A. Siraj is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru

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