With the second Covid wave pushing up infections and deaths, there have been several instances in which family members of a person who died of Covid have struggled to arrange the last rites as they too are infected or are confused by the protocols.
A group of volunteers in Bengaluru has come to the aid of such families and are helping arrange burials in keeping with all the Covid protocols.
'Here I Am' is a group of volunteers who constitute the Covid Last Rites and Funeral Squad Team under Bangalore Archdiocese.
Among the volunteers is Nicole and her cousin Tina Cherian. Nicole is pursuing a course in social work at St Joseph's College of Arts and Science and Tina is a final-year medical student. The two now spend several hours a day inside a cemetery.
Nicole told NDTV, "It makes me feel nice to help. And I have a lot of love in my family that helps us get through seeing so many bodies everyday."
"I don't think there is any difference because we are girls. Yes, we are young but if not now, then when?," she added.
Tina said, "The ambulance comes to the gate. We help take the body to the grave in a stretcher or the coffin. We help lower the coffin into the grave and then leave. If they require a prayer service, we have a few priests."
"It is fulfilling because these families have no one to help them," she added.
Here I Am has helped arrange 1,400 burials since the pandemic hit Bengaluru, more than 800 of them in just one month during the devastating second wave of infections.
Rev Father Rajesh, Assistant Director of Here I Am, told NDTV, "We have 60 to 70 volunteers who are divided into four zones and placed in different cemeteries. They pack the bodies, collect them from hospitals or homes and take them to the cemetery for burial. We also provide free ambulance service. And for the underprivileged, we also try to arrange coffins. We pay the diggers too."
He said it is difficult for families to cope with such burials, with the practical challenges adding to the stress and grief.
"Sometimes when a beloved family member dies, the others are Covid positive and cannot come out of their house. They do not know how to organise the burial. We take up the responsibility and give them a decent burial so that the family members are satisfied."
To train the volunteers, the group has followed the work of Mercy Angels, another Bengaluru group helping with the last rites of Covid positive patients.
Rev. Fr Santhosh Royan, Director of Here I Am, said, "We train the volunteers in use of PPE kits, how to touch the body, how to keep distance. We have a contact number and anyone can call this number, not just Christians."