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Health Secularism

Tamil Nadu’s NGOs respond to Covid anxiety, bury abandoned bodies in state

SabrangIndia talks to NGOs carrying out funeral rituals for abandoned bodies during India’s Covid-crisis.

Vallari Sanzgiri 13 May 2021

photo2

Karunai Ullangal Secretary Sayed Mubarak waited at Chennai’s Vadalur burial ground on May 11, 2021 to drop off the fourth body of the day, yet another case of death due to Covid-19. Standing sixth in queue, Mubarak told SabrangIndia there is a near hour-long waiting before cemeteries take in a body.

“Every burial ground in the city is the same. Earlier, I had to bury the body of a CBI employee in the morning. That too took about 45 minutes of waiting at K. K. Nagar,” he said in a tired voice.

Ferrying about four bodies by evening every day, Mubarak said he worried about the worsening situation of the health crisis. More than the number of recognised Covid-deaths, what worried him were unknown, abandoned bodies he took to local burial grounds.

As per Tamil Nadu’s Health and Family Welfare Department’s daily Covid-19 bulletin, 298 deaths were reported in the state with 92 recorded deaths in Chennai capital. However, this number does not account for the 20-30 bodies ferried by Mubarak every week.

Meanwhile, the other two vehicles of the NGO ferry Covid-patients to hospitals that also have a long waiting time to admit patients. Mubarak estimated the vehicle with oxygen-support carried about 120-150 patients to required destinations in the last 10 days.

“Time is the major issue here. Unlike other places, there is space here but the waiting at every location is the main problem. I have had to transport bodies at 3 AM. I am ready to do more but there needs to be an awareness among people right now. Just stay safe everybody,” he said.

Like other metropolitan cities, Chennai manages to keep going despite the heavy pressure on health infrastructure. However, nearby cities have already begun to arrange for better facilities to deal with increasing pressure on cemeteries in coming days. On May 10, DT Next talked about Vellore Corporation preparing two new crematoria to handle any additional load.

The Rs. 2 crore gasifier crematorium at Ammanankuttai town’s Velapadi area will be operational around May 12, reducing waiting time for final rites., said the report. The existing crematorium adjacent to the town’s new bus stand handles around 15 to 20 Covid-bodies daily.

On May 5, The Hindu reported overburdening at two electric crematoria in Thathaneri and Moolakarai areas due to increased coronavirus deaths. Thathaneri crematorium worked with two gasifiers, one of which broke down recently. Nowadays, it attends to around 25 Covid-bodies. 40 percent of them come from Madurai and other districts. Similarly, Moolakarai records around 10 bodies of coronavirus-infected patients daily.

Yet, the report claimed that these numbers were not properly reflected in government records because not all bodies cremated as per Covid-protocol detailed the infection as the cause of death. This is particularly disconcerting considering patients from neighbouring districts like Theni, Dindigul, Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga and Virudhunagar approached the Government Rajaji Hospital and major private hospitals in Madurai. People from these villages are allowed to take the bodies back only after obtaining a no-objection certificate from health inspectors.

Interestingly, this crowding is not reflected back in the villages. Rajesh Udhavum Karangal NGO-Founder Prithviraj told Sabrang India that Aruppukottai town in Virudhunagar district is not facing similar difficulties in burial grounds.

“While we do help families with performing last rites, volunteers mostly help nearby villagers travel to hospitals because there are no regular bus services here,” he said.

Doubling as an official at the State Revenue department, Prithviraj said the main problem for the district was the lack of awareness in rural regions and poor accessibility of medical care for nearby villages.

Moreover, with growing Covid-reports, villagers have grown fearful of hospitals where individuals are more likely to contract the illness. As per state bulletin, Virudhunagar recorded 444 new Covid-cases and two deaths on May 11. Further, on May 10, it detailed 638 deaths and four deaths.

As for abandoned bodies, volunteers of NGO Pasi Illa Tamilaham narrated nothing short of horror stories wherein the PPE-equipped members bagged the decomposed body of a 70-year-old woman at the start of May in Tenkasi district.

“Nobody informed us about the woman’s death. Our organisation worked with homeless people and those suffering mental disorders. However, after Covid-19 most people have begun abandoning bodies. We are trying to at least provide a dignified funeral for them,” said Founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The organisation previously worked with homeless individuals and people suffering from mental disorders. However, since starting the service, the organisation carried out more than 60 funeral ceremonies for unknown bodies.

Be it a Christian, Muslim or Hindu cemetery, every place in the district has a line of around four bodies even between 7:30 AM and 11:30 AM. The government data reports four deaths in the district on Tuesday and three deaths on Monday. However, NGO volunteer Amala Ajith told Sabrang India, the number must be much higher as many families leave their kin’s bodies for fear of contracting Covid-19.

“Here, they now have specific Covid-roads now to ferry patients and bodies. We generally take bodies or patients who are not critical due to lack of supplies in the ambulance. All in all, the situation is bad. Too many deaths,” she said.

Image

When asked whether volunteers are protected with protective gear, Jinnah said the NGO provides PPE kits. Even so he appealed to the District Collector G. S. Sameeran to support the service. He voiced hopes about a positive response. Similarly, on receiving distress calls outside Tenkasi, the NGO workers coordinate with groups in other regions to arrange for proper burials.

Around May 8, the New Indian Express discovered local private hospitals allegedly fleeced Covid patients by selling Ulinastatin, Methylprednisolone Sodium Succinate, and Enoxaparin Sodium injections at three times their MRPs. A respiratory exerciser worth Rs. 250 was sold for Rs. 900 while a high concentration oxygen mask was sold for Rs. 1,100 instead of Rs. 300. The district government hospital offered a bribe of Rs 10,000-13,000 to health workers for referring Covid patients to them. “Meanwhile, hospitals collected Rs. 1.5-6 lakh from each patient citing medical needs.

The report mentioned that Sameeran had already warned of formal action against private hospitals for overcharging patients.

Is there a light at the end of this road?

Despite receiving distress calls since 3 AM in the morning, Mubarak remained hopeful that the situation would improve. When asked whether this hope came following the recent Assembly election result, he answered in the affirmative.

“Calls have lessened since last week. It’s comparatively better and the government arranged for 850 beds at Nandanam. I can’t say anything else. Just be safe everybody, be safe,” said Mubarak half-laughing.

State Health Minister Ma Subramanian ordered an audit of Covid-19 deaths, reported the Times of India on Monday. He said the goal of this audit will be: 

reconciliation of deaths, active cases, discharges from the registry to ensure policy makers get the right picture; 

proper planning for the pandemic;

reconciliation of previous data.

NGOs continue to offer ambulance services, medicine delivery, food for the homeless, providing an alternative narrative to cross-check with government data. Including the above-mentioned organisations, almost all of which also provided food for the homeless, the medical wing of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) has also made news in recently for their secular service.

Food

The Hindu on April 28 praised the organisation for offering cremation and burial services for patients even while observing Ramzan fasting. As per the report, volunteers cremated over 2,170 persons of different faiths by then.

Religious rites are arranged by family members. For cremations, they take the body to the crematorium and hand it over to the staff while for funerals, volunteers bury the body themselves. Around 50 percent of members took the Covid-19 vaccine. In fact, as per the Cowin dashboard, 68,04,903 vaccines have been administered as of May 12 with 17,93,142 persons receiving their second dose.

Related:

Covid-19: Karnataka unable to dispose of the dead, even as people struggle to survive

No space to bury the dead in Maharashtra

EXCLUSIVE: Hundreds die of Covid and data goes missing, UP gov’t remorseless

Covid-19: Trying times reveal how citizens are coping and helping one another

Tamil Nadu’s NGOs respond to Covid anxiety, bury abandoned bodies in state

SabrangIndia talks to NGOs carrying out funeral rituals for abandoned bodies during India’s Covid-crisis.

photo2

Karunai Ullangal Secretary Sayed Mubarak waited at Chennai’s Vadalur burial ground on May 11, 2021 to drop off the fourth body of the day, yet another case of death due to Covid-19. Standing sixth in queue, Mubarak told SabrangIndia there is a near hour-long waiting before cemeteries take in a body.

“Every burial ground in the city is the same. Earlier, I had to bury the body of a CBI employee in the morning. That too took about 45 minutes of waiting at K. K. Nagar,” he said in a tired voice.

Ferrying about four bodies by evening every day, Mubarak said he worried about the worsening situation of the health crisis. More than the number of recognised Covid-deaths, what worried him were unknown, abandoned bodies he took to local burial grounds.

As per Tamil Nadu’s Health and Family Welfare Department’s daily Covid-19 bulletin, 298 deaths were reported in the state with 92 recorded deaths in Chennai capital. However, this number does not account for the 20-30 bodies ferried by Mubarak every week.

Meanwhile, the other two vehicles of the NGO ferry Covid-patients to hospitals that also have a long waiting time to admit patients. Mubarak estimated the vehicle with oxygen-support carried about 120-150 patients to required destinations in the last 10 days.

“Time is the major issue here. Unlike other places, there is space here but the waiting at every location is the main problem. I have had to transport bodies at 3 AM. I am ready to do more but there needs to be an awareness among people right now. Just stay safe everybody,” he said.

Like other metropolitan cities, Chennai manages to keep going despite the heavy pressure on health infrastructure. However, nearby cities have already begun to arrange for better facilities to deal with increasing pressure on cemeteries in coming days. On May 10, DT Next talked about Vellore Corporation preparing two new crematoria to handle any additional load.

The Rs. 2 crore gasifier crematorium at Ammanankuttai town’s Velapadi area will be operational around May 12, reducing waiting time for final rites., said the report. The existing crematorium adjacent to the town’s new bus stand handles around 15 to 20 Covid-bodies daily.

On May 5, The Hindu reported overburdening at two electric crematoria in Thathaneri and Moolakarai areas due to increased coronavirus deaths. Thathaneri crematorium worked with two gasifiers, one of which broke down recently. Nowadays, it attends to around 25 Covid-bodies. 40 percent of them come from Madurai and other districts. Similarly, Moolakarai records around 10 bodies of coronavirus-infected patients daily.

Yet, the report claimed that these numbers were not properly reflected in government records because not all bodies cremated as per Covid-protocol detailed the infection as the cause of death. This is particularly disconcerting considering patients from neighbouring districts like Theni, Dindigul, Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga and Virudhunagar approached the Government Rajaji Hospital and major private hospitals in Madurai. People from these villages are allowed to take the bodies back only after obtaining a no-objection certificate from health inspectors.

Interestingly, this crowding is not reflected back in the villages. Rajesh Udhavum Karangal NGO-Founder Prithviraj told Sabrang India that Aruppukottai town in Virudhunagar district is not facing similar difficulties in burial grounds.

“While we do help families with performing last rites, volunteers mostly help nearby villagers travel to hospitals because there are no regular bus services here,” he said.

Doubling as an official at the State Revenue department, Prithviraj said the main problem for the district was the lack of awareness in rural regions and poor accessibility of medical care for nearby villages.

Moreover, with growing Covid-reports, villagers have grown fearful of hospitals where individuals are more likely to contract the illness. As per state bulletin, Virudhunagar recorded 444 new Covid-cases and two deaths on May 11. Further, on May 10, it detailed 638 deaths and four deaths.

As for abandoned bodies, volunteers of NGO Pasi Illa Tamilaham narrated nothing short of horror stories wherein the PPE-equipped members bagged the decomposed body of a 70-year-old woman at the start of May in Tenkasi district.

“Nobody informed us about the woman’s death. Our organisation worked with homeless people and those suffering mental disorders. However, after Covid-19 most people have begun abandoning bodies. We are trying to at least provide a dignified funeral for them,” said Founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The organisation previously worked with homeless individuals and people suffering from mental disorders. However, since starting the service, the organisation carried out more than 60 funeral ceremonies for unknown bodies.

Be it a Christian, Muslim or Hindu cemetery, every place in the district has a line of around four bodies even between 7:30 AM and 11:30 AM. The government data reports four deaths in the district on Tuesday and three deaths on Monday. However, NGO volunteer Amala Ajith told Sabrang India, the number must be much higher as many families leave their kin’s bodies for fear of contracting Covid-19.

“Here, they now have specific Covid-roads now to ferry patients and bodies. We generally take bodies or patients who are not critical due to lack of supplies in the ambulance. All in all, the situation is bad. Too many deaths,” she said.

Image

When asked whether volunteers are protected with protective gear, Jinnah said the NGO provides PPE kits. Even so he appealed to the District Collector G. S. Sameeran to support the service. He voiced hopes about a positive response. Similarly, on receiving distress calls outside Tenkasi, the NGO workers coordinate with groups in other regions to arrange for proper burials.

Around May 8, the New Indian Express discovered local private hospitals allegedly fleeced Covid patients by selling Ulinastatin, Methylprednisolone Sodium Succinate, and Enoxaparin Sodium injections at three times their MRPs. A respiratory exerciser worth Rs. 250 was sold for Rs. 900 while a high concentration oxygen mask was sold for Rs. 1,100 instead of Rs. 300. The district government hospital offered a bribe of Rs 10,000-13,000 to health workers for referring Covid patients to them. “Meanwhile, hospitals collected Rs. 1.5-6 lakh from each patient citing medical needs.

The report mentioned that Sameeran had already warned of formal action against private hospitals for overcharging patients.

Is there a light at the end of this road?

Despite receiving distress calls since 3 AM in the morning, Mubarak remained hopeful that the situation would improve. When asked whether this hope came following the recent Assembly election result, he answered in the affirmative.

“Calls have lessened since last week. It’s comparatively better and the government arranged for 850 beds at Nandanam. I can’t say anything else. Just be safe everybody, be safe,” said Mubarak half-laughing.

State Health Minister Ma Subramanian ordered an audit of Covid-19 deaths, reported the Times of India on Monday. He said the goal of this audit will be: 

reconciliation of deaths, active cases, discharges from the registry to ensure policy makers get the right picture; 

proper planning for the pandemic;

reconciliation of previous data.

NGOs continue to offer ambulance services, medicine delivery, food for the homeless, providing an alternative narrative to cross-check with government data. Including the above-mentioned organisations, almost all of which also provided food for the homeless, the medical wing of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) has also made news in recently for their secular service.

Food

The Hindu on April 28 praised the organisation for offering cremation and burial services for patients even while observing Ramzan fasting. As per the report, volunteers cremated over 2,170 persons of different faiths by then.

Religious rites are arranged by family members. For cremations, they take the body to the crematorium and hand it over to the staff while for funerals, volunteers bury the body themselves. Around 50 percent of members took the Covid-19 vaccine. In fact, as per the Cowin dashboard, 68,04,903 vaccines have been administered as of May 12 with 17,93,142 persons receiving their second dose.

Related:

Covid-19: Karnataka unable to dispose of the dead, even as people struggle to survive

No space to bury the dead in Maharashtra

EXCLUSIVE: Hundreds die of Covid and data goes missing, UP gov’t remorseless

Covid-19: Trying times reveal how citizens are coping and helping one another

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