Angels of Mumbai: Samaritans who kept humanity alive amid pandemic

At a time when people, for various reasons, were unable to perform the last rites of their loved ones, who had succumbed to coronavirus, a group of good Samaritans took it upon themselves to cremate the bodies of COVID-19 patients. Iqbal Mamdani, a task force member and former journalist, along with other group members, tied up with the civic-run hospitals, which were treating patients at the COVID-19 care centres, and ambulances to carry the bodies of corona patients.

In the initial months of the pandemic, when COVID-19 deaths were at peak, a number of bodies went unclaimed at hospitals — families refused to touch them, fearing they too would contract the virus. The staff of South Mumbai-based Bada Qabrastan were approached by people to bury the bodies of Muslim COVID patients, but upon learning that many more lying in the mortuary, Mamdani and his team, volunteered to cremate the bodies of COVID patients of Hindu descent as well, without charging fees.

Angels of Mumbai: Samaritans who kept humanity alive amid pandemic

Mamdani said, Bada Qabrastan, which shares a boundary wall with the Chandanwadi crematorium, has housed funerals of at least 1,200 people brought in by them during the pandemic, of which at least 700 were Hindu. Speaking about the work, Mamdani added, “We observed that many ambulance services had stopped giving vehicles fearing the virus, which is why we traced at least six abandoned ambulances outside the city, and brought them to Mumbai with the help of a towing van, following which a mechanic was called in to repair them. Regardless of the religion, or if the patient was COVID positive or not, free ambulance service was provided and the last rites were performed.”

The doctors helped us understand how to cremate Hindu bodies, Mamdani said. “We completed the procedure of tying up with the police, and provided the Aadhaar card of the deceased, to obtain the death certificate. The bodies of the COVID patients used to be completely wrapped in accordance with the protocols, and we stayed until the last rite was completed,” Mamdani added.

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