CHITRADURGA: Milan Rafiq, who runs an old furniture shop in Hiriyur town, is not allowed to park his Maruti Omni in front of his house, and neither do his neighbours visit him. For he has converted his Omni into a hearse, and ferries bodies of Covid patients to graveyards and crematoriums. He also completes the last rites, and has cremated and buried more than 200 bodies, of which around 80 were of Covid patients. His aim is to give people a final dignified departure, surprising at a time when friends and families are known to abandon both the living and dead.
“Covid has killed humanity. People are not ready to take care of their near and dear ones, including ailing parents on their deathbeds,” said Rafiq. He saw disowned bodies lying in the mortuary of Hiriyur Taluk Hospital, and it disturbed him so much that he decided to take on the last duties himself, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. He doesn’t charge any money, only accepting whatever is given to him, which he uses for the next burial or cremation.
“Before taking the body, I ask the family to get the grave dug, so we can bury the body and close the grave. On an average, I cremate two bodies every day. On Sunday, I cremated four bodies in Chitradurga and Hiriyur,” Rafiq told The New Indian Express.
His has carried out cremations in Chitradurga, Bengaluru and Kolar districts, ferrying bodies from Bengaluru to Kolar, and Madhugiri in Tumakuru. At a time when ambulances charge exorbitant rates, Rafiq just asks where the body should be ferried and sets out in his Omni. The cost of petrol and repairs is met by his group of friends, standing solidly behind him ever since he took up these humanitarian duties.
“I am also using my fixed deposit, I cannot ask families for money when they are in pain. It would be a sin,” he said. Rafiq’s wife Shahtaj Begum, son Mohammed Zubair and son-in-law Mohammed Ali support him and even help him with the last rites. They wear masks and PPE kits, and sanitise the Omni after work is done. He cites a recent ordeal where there was no one to give them even a glass of water.
“My son, son-in-law, and I conducted the last rites and drank water only after returning to Hiriyur,” he said. Rafiq freely gives his number -- 7259859407 -- for anytime, anywhere burials and cremations.