SRINAGAR: Jameel Ahmad has an invidious job of ferrying the COVID-19 dead to the burial ground. In some cases, he has himself dug up the ground for the dead to rest because their relatives had tested positive or were too scared to come over for fear of infection.
He has so far driven 70 of the 85 corona death victims to the graveyard in Srinagar. Of the 302 deaths in Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar accounts for 85 fatalities. "I have also ferried positive cases in Srinagar to hospitals. My ambulance has now been allocated for COVID-19 casualties only and I ferry only the pandemic victims."
"Initially, whenever the ambulance siren blared, the grave diggers would run away from the graveyard, leaving behind their tools. They told us not to bring the COVID-19 casualty till they are through with the digging," says Jameel, an ambulance driver working with Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Srinagar.
The fear peaked when people started shutting their windows at the sight of the ambulance. "They wouldn’t touch the coffin of a COVID-19 victim. Funeral prayers of some COVID-19 victims could not be offered as none was present to lead the prayers," he said.
He recalls a haunting case, when only two neighbours and he attended the last rites of a woman in Srinagar. "Her sons had tested positive and were admitted in hospital while others were in quarantine. Her grave was half dug and we had to dig it further. After the grave was dug, I called up a cleric of the area to lead the funeral prayers. He switched off the phone. So, no funeral prayers were offered," says Jameel.
But the situation has improved a lot now, he says. "Earlier, I would lower a coffin with the help of ropes as relatives would not come forward. People are now attending to COVID-19 patients and also participating in their final rites," he adds.