Volunteers go beyond religion to carry out COVID-19 relief work

Citizens stand in a queue as they wait to receive a dose of COVID-19 vaccine, at ESIS Hospital in Navi Mumbai, on May 13, 2021.   | Photo Credit: PTI


Pune district has been the worst-hit in not only the State but also the country during the first and second waves of COVID-19. The district currently has nearly 95,000 active cases and is reporting nearly 15,000 deaths since March last year.

As the virus continues to wreak havoc and instil fear, there have been several cases in which relatives have refused to perform funerals of their kin or even help take the body to the ambulance.

In such cases, city-based activist Anjum Inamdar and his outfit, Mulnivasi Muslim Manch, have been performing yeoman service to ensure that these ‘orphaned’ bodies receive a proper funeral. Since last year, the Manch has performed the last rites of more than 1,300 COVID-19 victims, cutting across castes and communities.

With material support from the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), which has supported the group by supplying Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits, Mr. Inamdar and his 18-member team have transcended communal barriers with their exemplary service.

“As the deaths started mounting in Pune in late March-early April, our outfit was one of the first to respond to the then PMC Commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad’s call to NGOs to come forward and aid authorities in relief work… In many cases, funerals could not be performed as entire families had tested positive. It is in such cases that our outfit helped perform the last rites as per the tradition of a particular caste or community…We have even helped in the funeral of non-Covid victims,” Mr. Inamdar said.

Mulnivasi Muslim Manch founder Anjum Inamdar (centre, in PPE kit) helping with last rites of a Christian person in Pune.

Mulnivasi Muslim Manch founder Anjum Inamdar (centre, in PPE kit) helping with last rites of a Christian person in Pune.  

Manch acitivists have performed the last rites of Hindus – be they Brahmins, Lingayats, Telugus – as well as Sikhs, Christians and members of other communities as per their respective customs, much to the satisfaction of the relatives of the deceased.

“Our activists have fanned out across the State, working in Lonavla, Shirur, Jejuri, Lonand, as well as Satara, Navi Mumbai, Panvel, Raigad and other districts in the Marathwada region. We have also helped with the final rites of constables, health workers, doctors, journalists and notables like Maharashtra hockey player William D’Souza,” Mr. Inamdar said.

Their volunteers also facilitate online training of workers from different social outfits engaged in relief works across the State.

“We have been providing free services with the aim of keeping the humanitarian spirit alive and ensuring dignity even in death,” says Mr. Inamdar.

Helping hand

The Sikh community has time and again proved itself when it comes to opening up their hearts and purses for relief work. The Supreme Council Navi Mumbai Gurudwaras (SCNMG) is an umbrella organisation governing nine gurdwaras. Many of these gurdwaras are providing free rations and oxygen gas to the needy, by collaborating with different trusts as well as using donations from individuals.

“We provide oxygen gas and rations for a week or two from our gurdwaras in Panvel, Kharghar, CBD-Belapur, Nerul, and Airoli. Whoever needs rations can go there and they get what they need,” said Mehar Singh Randhawa, general secretary of the SCNMG. Last year too, these gurdwaras had ensured delivery of rations to the needy.

“This is public money and going back to the public. Our job is to deliver to the needy without discrimination,” he said. The SCNMG also provides oxygen gas cylinder to the Covid-affected.

“Come with the Covid report and Aadhaar card. While a small cylinder is for free, we take a deposit for a big cylinder. The money is refunded when the cylinder is returned,” he said. When asked how many people have benefited, Mr. Randhawa modestly said the job was not for the purpose of keeping count and no record has been maintained.

Relief in kind

Not all relief work is about offering food, though. Anjumane Shiateali, an organisation that manages matters of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Mumbai, is providing service of a different kind. It has recently set up a Covid war room in Mumbai’s Bhendi Bazar area as part of its Project Rise initiative.

Taizun Bearingwala, a volunteer/coordinator at the war room, said they offer medical counselling, consoling and guide people to appropriate medical service. “We get calls from different parts of the country. We also have over 60 doctors who offer consultations,” he said. The war room has designed a medical form which is filled after talking to the caller.

The Anjumane Shiateali has been serving food to migrants workers and has undertaken other relief efforts under Project Rise initiative since the last 12 months.

Samajwadi Party MLA Rais Sheikh said that the Project Rise work is commendable. “The callers get advise on whether they need oxygen or ICU bed or home quarantine,” he said, adding that earlier the calls were from patients, but now the number of those seeking guidance on vaccination has seen an increase.

Not just in Mumbai, Project Rise has a presence in other cities of Maharashtra and the country.

They have converted a community school in Indore into a Covid care centre providing hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and day care. So far, over 500 patients have received treatment.

With the help of local authorities and agencies, Project Rise volunteers are supplying extra beds, medicine, oxygen supply in all six Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCs) and one Covid care centre in economically backward areas of Karjat. They are also providing protective gear such as masks, gloves, PPE kits and sanitisers for all medical staff and frontline workers. This is for a combined population of over 2.5 lakh people.

Their volunteers in Coimbatore and Chennai have been serving cooked meals to patients’ families, slum dwellers, at orphanage and old age homes since the last 51 weeks.

Financial and medical support is also being provided in Nagpur and Nashik in Maharashtra and small towns like Taloda and Mahuva in Gujarat, and Thandla in Madhya Pradesh. Villages in Mokhada, Maharashtra, are being supplied with daily water tankers, covering a population of over 1,650 people

“As part of the initiative, Project Rise volunteers across different parts of the country are mobilising a range of facilities from healthcare and oxygen cylinders to serving food, water and dry rations to vulnerable sections of society,” said Ammar Tyebkhan, member, Project Rise.

Space for vaccination

St Michael’s Church at Mahim, on the other hand, offered much needed space for vaccination. “There is palpable panic among people since the second wave struck. We can help people, but there is a need to instil confidence. This confidence will come only through vaccination,” said Father Lancy Pinto.

“As we realised the need for vaccination, we offered three options to our ward officer along with the local corporator. We offered the church’s premises till November this year to set up vaccination centre. It has a capacity to vaccinate 1,200 people a day,” he added.

Father Pinto said the church offered space knowing that vaccination would be a long process and would not get over in one or two months. “Therefore, we chose a spot which will not disrupt the activities of the church and the school,” he said.

Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak Trust, on the other hand, extended monetary help to the State government to fight the pandemic and also to provide aid.

“We have donated ₹5 crore to the Chief Minister’s Covid relief fund. In addition, we also donated ₹5 crore towards the Shiv bhojan scheme of the State government where free meals are given to the needy,” said Aadesh Bandekar, president of the trust.

He said further relief measures would be be announced after a meeting of office-bearers of the trust.

Recognising another gap, Lalbaugcha Raja, one of the most popular public Ganesh mandals in Mumbai, has been running its dialysis centre throughout the Covid period.

Balasaheb Kamble, president, Lalbaugcha Raja, said, “We ensured that the centre continues to run throughout the pandemic. While medical services are busy and loaded with work treating COVID patients, those requiring dialysis can come here.”

It has also held blood donation camps where over 15,000 bottles of blood were collected. “We also gave a call for plasma donation, through which we helped around 245 patients,” he said.

(With inputs from Shoumojit Banerjee, Alok Deshpande and Lalatendu Mishra)

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An earlier version of this story said that SCNMG provides cooking gas instead of oxygen gas. The error is regretted.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 12:05:53 AM |

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