It just takes a single call to connect with a Srinagar Samaritan who helps the distressed families in the burial of their fallen. The free community service has been started to inspire others at a time when the fear of contagion is even keeping the blood relation at arm’s length.
IT was already sundown on May 27, 2020, when Sajad Khan, 37, got a call from a man introducing himself as a retired Superintendent of Police.
But even before the caller’s cop introduction would make him imagine things, Khan was curtly told: “I saw your video on Facebook…”
Sometimes before, when Khan was passing through the lanes of his hometown Bemina, he saw some reluctant relatives standing at a ‘safe’ distance from a COVID victim, for the fear of the novel coronavirus.
“I couldn’t take it and ran towards my departmental shop named Houseful in Bemina and took 8 PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] gears from shelf,” Khan, 37, recalls the day, that would motivate him to come up with an important community cause.
“I could see satisfaction on the faces of those eight PPE-clad men who participated in the funeral prayers of that late lady, and gloom on those who could only stand around as sorrowful spectators.”
The case set him thinking.
If Khalsas can do it, Khan thought, why can’t Kashmiris help each other during these trying times?
He would shortly contact his friends, and share his idea with them.
Khan wanted to rope in the likeminded for the burial of the COVID-19 victims being ‘abandoned’ for the fear of contagion in Kashmir Valley.
Once he raised a volunteer group of around 20 friends, he uploaded a video on his Facebook page, Athwaas, Handshake, where he would share his message, “Anybody can call us anytime”, and personal contact number.
“I only requested people that during these tough times, we need to support each other,” Khan, the ex-banker, known for his community welfare works in his hometown, continues.
“Rather than presenting myself as some social worker, I wanted to motivate people to come forward, when this virus had disrupted our compassionate community ecosystem.”
It was in this backdrop that he received that call from the retired police officer on May 27.
The ex-cop had introduced himself as an uncle of a 55-year-old Fateh Kadal man—who had died at the Chest Disease hospital earlier that day. After his family members were quarantined, Khan got the call.
“Soon after that, I deputed my four volunteers, on a particular time frame, when the administration would ferry the body for burial,” Khan, the team leader who protects the identity of his ‘humanist and highly educated’ volunteers, for fear of social stigma and boycott, says.
“Following the protocol, my team carried PPE gears for some family members of the deceased man at their ancestral graveyard, Malkah, Srinagar.”
Soon as gravediggers walked away, the team began their farewell undertaking, as cops strictly enforced the protocol guidelines from distance.
“After offering funeral prayers, my team carried the body placed in a rectangular ply box, and lowered it into the 8-feet long pit, with the help of ropes.”
Once done with their ‘moral duty’, the volunteers burnt their protective gears, and returned home, only to quarantine themselves for 14 days.
Meanwhile, anticipating another COVID call, Khan put four more members of his team on standby mode.
“Our motive is to serve humanity,” the team leader continues.
“Be it anyone – Hindu, Sikh, Muslim – we remain ready for the proper burial of our departed brethren during these distressing times.”
The only fear, however, is that Khan might run out of his team members, if the COVID cases continue to rise in the valley.
“And that’s why,” he says, “the idea is to inspire others, with our efforts, for this community welfare cause.”
As someone who has fought many odds in his life to create his own chain of shops and played his role in mitigating the pandemic crisis by starting free-home-delivery service, Khan funds the cause from his own pocket.
But his selfless efforts are already motivating people to approach him with help. Among others, the police officer who called Khan for Fateh Kadal man’s burial too wants to play his part.
“While people are offering monetary help, I tell them that I don’t receive funds for this cause from anyone,” Khan says.
“We’re only trying to be helping hands during this crisis situation, when every one of us should come forward and be each other’s support.”
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