This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by India Development Review (IDR). Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

A Cremation, An Oxygen Bed, A Death: In Close Quarters With Grief And Despair

More from India Development Review (IDR)

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Trigger warning: Mentions of crematoriums, death and COVID-19 trauma

By Azra Mobin

My name is Azra Mobin and I am a social worker and activist based in Lucknow. For the last month or so, I have been supporting people affected by the second wave of COVID-19. Ever since Holi was celebrated in early April, the situation has been getting worse.

As I have been involved in social work for some years, there are many people who have my contact number and so they reach out to me, when they, or somebody they know needs support.

Representational image.

1.00 AM: I’m woken up by a call from a man based in Kanpur. His father was diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalised in Lucknow. He is calling me because his father has passed away, and since he and the rest of the family are all COVID-positive too, they have to isolate and cannot travel to Lucknow to take care of the formalities.

They do have one family member in Lucknow, but he is diabetic and needs to be very cautious about not getting infected himself, so they are looking for somebody who will be able to help them with the formalities at the hospital as well as with the cremation. The hospital has informed them that they can release the body by 7 AM. I assure him that I will go to the hospital in the morning and take care of the situation.

I try to catch a few hours of sleep.

4.30 AM: As it is the holy month of Ramzan I wake up before dawn to pray and have a meal before the sun rises.

7.00 AM: I arrive at the hospital, along with another social worker. We manage to complete all the formalities at the hospital within a few hours and without too much difficulty. We arrange for an ambulance to take the body to Baikunth Dham—the nearest cremation site.

10.00 AM: When we arrive at Baikunth Dham, we realise that the process for cremation differs based on whether or not the deceased person has a certificate that shows that the death was due to COVID-19. When such a certificate is available, the workers at Baikunth Dham take care of handling the body and arranging the firewood. And the government takes care of the costs associated with these cremations.

Azra Mobin, a social worker in Lucknow helps a family to arrange a cremation
When we arrive at Baikunth Dham, we realise that the process for cremation differs based on whether or not the deceased person has a certificate that shows that the death was due to COVID-19. Photo: Azra Mobin

However, we do not have such a certificate. So, I consult with the family about how to proceed. They ask me to go ahead with the cremation without arranging for the certificate, as neither they nor I know how long it will take to get it and we are already at the cremation grounds. It takes a while to organise everything. Initially, nobody is willing to move the body from the ambulance to the cremation site. We also need to arrange for the firewood and labour. It takes several hours, but we manage to complete the final rites as per Hindu traditions.

As a Muslim woman, I did not know much about the rituals and practices that need to be followed when cremating a Hindu. I have only learnt about these in the past few weeks, ever since I started helping families arrange cremations for their loved ones. As a social worker, my role is defined by what people need, and this is the need of the hour.

4.00 PM: I receive a call from another social worker who is trying to find an oxygen bed at a hospital for a patient whose condition is serious. He has been unsuccessful so far and is reaching out to me to check if I have any leads. Over the last few weeks, many volunteer groups have been set up on WhatsApp.

Some people on these groups are social workers like myself, others are just common citizens who want to extend help where they can. Many resources are shared on these groups, but not all of them are legitimate and even when they are, there is such a severe shortage of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and medicines, that we have to make calls each and every time a request comes in, to verify if they are still available.

A lot of citizens have been using social media to find beds, oxygen and leads on medicines to help battle COVID-19. Representational image.

I start calling hospitals that are listed as accepting COVID-19 patients. Many numbers have been switched off, or are unreachable. Others just keep ringing and nobody responds to the call. Finally, I manage to get through to Balrampur Hospital. The person at the other end of the line tells me that they have a bed available but that they cannot provide oxygen. This does not help and I find myself very frustrated by the situation. But I cannot give up until I have called every number on the list that I have, so I keep going.

Eventually, a small hospital confirms that they have an oxygen bed available. I immediately call up my social worker friend and ask him to rush the patient to this hospital so that he can be admitted and receive the care that he needs.

6.00 PM: About a week ago, I had received a call from an acquaintance who shared a number of a young man with me and asked me to call him. He did not tell me very much—just that this person was very distressed and could I please call him and see if I could help in any way. I had to try the number several times before he took the call. I introduced myself and told him that I am a social worker. I asked him how he was doing and whether I could help in any way.

Initially, he was not very forthcoming, but after a while, he broke down and told me that both his parents were unwell. From his description, their symptoms sounded like COVID-19 symptoms. His mother had passed away and he was unable to tell his father—who was still unwell—that his mother was no more.

I did my best to console him and also enquired about his own health. He told me that he felt okay but that he hadn’t been able to eat anything since his mother passed away two days ago. He was missing his mother terribly. I tried to convince him to eat something and also told him that I would try to arrange some medical attention for his father.

While I knew that the family lived on Rae Bareilly Road, I did not have the exact address, and he disconnected the call before I could ask.

I have been trying to connect with him ever since then, but all my calls have gone unanswered.

I try the number again, and today a young girl, who is probably 19-20 years old answers the call. It turns out that she is the boy’s younger sister. I tell her about the conversation that I had with her brother a week ago and let her know that I am calling to enquire about her family and how they are doing.

She sounds very distraught and somehow, I manage to understand from what she’s saying, that since I spoke to her brother, he has passed away, along with their father and grandmother. After she tells me this, she cuts the call and does not pick up the phone again. I feel helpless. I know that I probably won’t be able to sleep tonight. This family’s situation and that of many others will run through my mind in an endless loop.

At times, my work is overwhelming. But I know that if my own family was in a similar situation, I would do what needed to be done. I cannot possibly sit silently when there are others who need support. I have to help.

About the author: Azra Mobin is a social worker and activist based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

As told to IDR. This article was originally published on India Development Review.
You must be to comment.

More from India Development Review (IDR)

Similar Posts

By Accountability Initiative

By India Development Review (IDR)

By Nupur Pattanaik

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below