One year of Covid: Ripped apart by loss of near and dear ones, families struggle
When the Covid pandemic was at its peak in the city, during August and September 2020, most government offices, including the Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) main building were deserted.
There was one office though, always drawing crowds – the birth and death registration ward of the PMC.
The long queues were of people coming to collect death certificates of their near and dear ones. Covid, for many, came as calamity they had never anticipated.
The family of former mayor of Datta Ekbote is braving all the odds to come to terms with the tragedy which struck them, as Covid-19 has claimed three of their family members.
The family feels let down by the PMC administration, following the deaths of the three family members due to Covid-19 - the former mayor, his son Ravindra Ekbote (51) and daughter Renuka (62).
The family - grandson Gaurav, his wife Rajashree, mother Meenakshi and grandmother Kaveri (85) - stay in a small room in Ganj peth.
Gaurav was employed at a private institution and lost his job after the imposition of lockdown.
His grandfather Datta Ekbote was a noted socialist leader who breathed his last at Sassoon General Hospital. Ekbote, is known for his involvement in the fight for the rights of bidi workers and their empowerment.
“Our demands must be fulfilled as it is the duty of the PMC to ensure that we get the requisite compensation from the authorities. The loss can never be compensated,” Meenakshi Ekbote said.
As on Sunday, Pune district reported 8,115 deaths due to the infection, of which 4578 are from city areas alone.
A PMC analysis shows that most of those died are above 50 years of age.
“We lost three of our family members and the situation on the ground is tough. We are eligible for ₹50 lakh compensation announced by the government, but still nothing has been done on the ground. Our request to PMC has fallen on deaf ears. We have requested the PMC to release ₹25 lakh as compensation and offer me a job so that we can recover from the huge setback,” said Gaurav Ekbote.
In some cases, getting the body cremated was a challenge for family members, something that added to the trauma. This PMC staff and NGOs had to take initiative, as relatives were scared to take possession of a corpse infected with Covid-19.
In July and August, PMC assigned 12 crematoriums where final rites on Covid mortalities were performed.
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However, most crematoriums were overburdened.
Relatives of Covid-19 victims were found to disappear just before the funeral, leaving health workers and social workers with the corpse.
According to the law, the last rites cannot be performed without a relative’s approval and the corpse could not be stored a due to the infection .
Social workers and health department officials found it hard to track down absconding relatives to get consent for the final rites.
The deaths also took away earning members for many.
Arshiya Shaikh (22), daughter of Nazir Hussain (65), a resident of Yerawada, also lost her father and uncle Mushir (55) in the Covid crisis in May 2020.
Arshiya stays with her mother, sister, aunt and her three children aged 10, 12 and 15.
“Covid-19 crisis struck us at the roots, as we lost two earning members. My mother had also taken ill due to Covid-19 and was sent to an isolation facility.. It is nearly nine months and things have changed for the better for the family. I have got a job and our relatives helped us financially to tide over the crisis,” said Arshiya.
Like Arshiya, Adarsh Pihal (23), a resident of Bhavani peth, also lost his mother Hirabai (60), in April last year. The loss shattered the family. “We stay with our father, sister and aunt in our house. My mother worked for a private firm earned well for the family. Currently, things are bad and I am desperately searching for a job so that we can survive the financial impact of the Corona virus,” said Pihal.