TN-based NGO performs last rites of Covid victims across religions
In the initial days of the pandemic last April, volunteers of an NGO, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) offered to give a Muslim man who succumbed to the virus a decent burial and performed the last rites which this was filmed by a stranger. A week later, the stranger contacted them and requested if they could follow Christian traditions and bury his family member who also died due to Covid-19.
“He took a video because the patient was critical. At that time the municipalities were burying the bodies or cremating them and family members weren’t allowed. We of course agreed,” said TMMK’s Coimbatore secretary Mujibur Rehman. “Now families from all regions contact us.”
For a year now, TMMK volunteers across the state have helped bury more than 2,200 Covid victims. Besides the fear of infection spreading, families of the deceased can’t be present as they are hospitalised or in home isolation. “Last year during the first wave, we had to bury an entire family of four. We can never forget some heart wrenching days,” said Chennai-based Kaleel Rahuman, treasurer of TMMK’s state medical wing.
On Wednesday, a family of senior citizens in Chennai contacted the organisation to help bury 75-year-old Sharif who had died in the afternoon. “All the members of the family were old and couldn’t physically conduct a burial so they approached us,” said Rahuman. “Initially in Chennai we were burying unknown and unclaimed bodies. When we saw the first body in Chennai being flung into a ditch, it really shocked us. So we performed last rites from any religion to give them a respectful burial.” On the request of families, the last rites are filmed on mobile phones so the family can watch.
They do the burial service for free. Families bear the costs of the ambulance service from hospital to the burial ground, and for materials used in the burial. The volunteers use a JCB to dig a 12-feet deep trench, volunteers wear PPEs, 10kg of bleaching powder is sprinkled in the trench and use cloth to cover the mortal remains.
Their work for Covid-19 infected patients began when members from the Tablighi Jamaat returned from Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz Mosque and several had turned positive in March 2020. The community was vilified for spreading the virus. “We were hurt. We were dealt with like criminals,” recalls Rehman. “But we didn’t react by protesting. Instead, we decided to prove ourselves by getting down to the ground to do social service.”
The volunteers are presently observing their fasts during Ramadan and take turns to work as teams. Every burial requires at least seven volunteers. They isolate themselves for five days after a burial and those eligible have been vaccinated as a safety precaution. “We are happy to set an example and now several NGOs are volunteering with burial services,” says Rehman. TMMK also has a political wing- Manithaneya Makkal Katchi which has contested in two seats in the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) alliance.