Amid the second Covid wave in Bengaluru, a key challenge the city has faced is performing the last rites of those who've died due to COVID-19.
Strict protocol needs to be followed, and family members of the victims are often Covid positive themselves. "Here I Am" is a group of volunteers from different faiths, which has set up a "Covid Last Rites and Funeral Squad" Team under the Bangalore Archdiocese to help such grieving family members.
Nicole, a student, is a volunteer. Her cousin, Tina Cherian, is a final year medical student. These young women now spend hours every day inside a cemetery in Bengaluru.
Nicole, who studies at St Joseph's College of Arts and Science, told NDTV, "It feels nice to help. And I have a lot of love in my family that helps us get through it, seeing so many bodies every day. I don't think there is any difference, us being girls. Yes, we are young but if not now, then when?"
Tina said, "The ambulance comes to the gate. We help in transporting the body to the grave in the stretcher or the coffin itself. We help in lowering the coffin into the grave and then we leave. If they require prayer service, we help in arranging it. It is fulfilling because these families have no one to help them."
With so many deaths recorded in the city due to coronavirus - the group, has helped with 1,400 burials since the first wave - including over 800 in the last month alone during the deadly second wave.
Rev Father Rajesh, Assistant Director, Here I Am, told NDTV, "We have 60 to 70 volunteers who have been divided into four zones. They are placed in different cemeteries. They volunteer for packing the bodies, collecting the bodies from hospitals or homes. We pack the bodies and get them to the cemetery. We are also providing free service of ambulances and if someone is very poor, we try to give them coffin boxes. And we pay the diggers."
He believes it is difficult for families to cope with burials amid Covid, with practical challenges adding to the emotional stress and grief.
"We give a consolation to the family that at this time of distress we are here with you," he said. "And to also reduce the burden of the family, because sometimes when a beloved member dies, even they are Covid positive and they cannot come out of their house. So, they do not know how to organise the burial. We take up the responsibility of doing all the required things and give them a decent burial so that the family members are also satisfied. "
To train the volunteers, the group looked at the work of Mercy Angels - a Bengaluru group helping with Covid funerals.
Rev. Fr Santhosh Royan, Director, Here I Am, said, "We have trainings on PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) kit, how to touch the body, how to keep distance. We have a centralised number and anybody can call this number - not just Christians."
Here I Am initiative is working hard to live up to its motto, "To have a dignified life is a basic human right, so is having a dignified death."