VIJAYAWADA: Putting religious differences aside, a few youth from city-based NGO ‘Helping Hands’ have taken the responsibility to give a traditional farewell to Covid-19 victims.
The group has till now performed last rites of over 200 people since the beginning of the pandemic in Krishna, West Godavari and Guntur districts.
The NGO was formed in March 2020. Initially, the volunteers distributed free food to the destitute people across the city after the lockdown was enforced by the Centre last year.
“I never thought of taking on the task of performing the last rites of the dead. It all started after I came across an elderly woman refusing to take the food distributed by our volunteers. When asked for the reason, she told us that none of her relatives are ready to cremate her son who died of the virus. Moved by her plight, we performed the last rites of her son. That was how it all started,” Helping Hands founder Ch Venkat said. He is a native of Machilipatnam and a photographer by profession.
“On an average, we perform last rites 15 to 20 bodies of those who died in Vijayawada alone. We take around Rs 15,000 for each cremation. Sometimes, if the families cannot afford, we bear their expenses believing that serving the needy is next to godliness,” he said.
Asked how he is managing to take out the service activities, Venkat said he spends around 40 per cent of his earnings from photography and cashewnut business to serve the needy and provide monthly essentials worth Rs 10,000 to my team members as they left their jobs to support me in the noble cause, he said.
“When we receive a call from any patient’s family, we put on PPE and rush to the spot in our own vehicle. We take all possible precautions, while performing the last rites so that none of the team members get infected. After cremation, we preserve the mortal remains of the victim at the burial ground,” he said.
However, there are some people who are afraid to take the mortal remains home.
“After performing last rites, we contact the Covid-19 victim’s family to hand over the the mortal remains. Many of them do not even attend our calls, fearing we might demand money from them.
“A couple of days ago, I immersed the mortal remains of more than 60 victims in River Krishna after performing the traditional rituals,” Venkat said.