Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
Camerapersons: Athar Rather, Poonam Agarwal
COVID deaths are not just numbers. This story is The Quint's effort to put a human face to the many tragedies witnessed across the country during the deadly second wave. It was an emotional journey for me, meeting children who had lost their parents at a young age. Please support us by becoming a Quint member and help us bring you the stories of India's COVID Orphans.
"We were a happy family. When mummy passed away, I focused on saving my father. When my father passed away, I started worrying about the children (siblings). Now I only think about how to support their education."Devika
Twenty-three-year-old Devika, who was once just a daughter, is now the head of the family, shouldering the responsibility of looking after her six siblings. Both her parents died due to COVID within just 10 days during the second wave.
Devika has five sisters and one brother. The youngest member of the family is her four-year-old brother.
When I asked her how her sisters and brother were dealing with the loss of both their parents, she said she had not yet told her three youngest siblings about it. For now she has told them that the they are at the family village undergoing some medical treatment.
"I have not told my three youngest siblings about our parent’s death. But my other sisters understood when I came home after mummy's death. I think the other three will understand also. But I don’t have the courage to tell them as yet."Devika
Devika let us shoot inside her two-room home with a mobile phone, and introduced us as NGO workers. She felt that seeing a journalist at home might make her youngest siblings think that something was wrong.
When we entered the home, all the children were sitting very properly on a bed in a line, in the ascending order of their age. The two youngest among them were the most chirpy and talkative.
Keeping in mind COVID-19, we moved up to the terrace of the house. While other siblings were a bit quiet, the two young ones immediately picked up their bat and ball to play.
I watched Devika fussing over her siblings, treating them like her children. These days one of her big worries is the talk about COVID's third wave, so she makes sure all the kids stick to all COVID rules.
"My children (siblings) don’t go anywhere outside. Earlier they would go till the milk shop. But I don’t allow that any more."Devika
Devika and her siblings have inherited a small home from their parents in Delhi, which is a big help, she says. But even so, planning the monthly expenses and staying positive is not easy.
"We often sit together and chat, trying to be positive about our future. The kids speak maturely saying, “Don’t worry, we are studying, we will all achieve something when we grow up.”Devika
Tuitions, Devika's Only Source of Income
I asked Devika whether the absence of their parents had affected the children in any way. "They have become a bit quiet," said Devika. "They don’t laugh or talk that much now. Nor are they too demanding now."
Recollecting an incident, Devika said, "My younger sister needed some books, but then she told me not to get them. When Papa was alive, she was after him to get the books for her new session."
Devika's father was a pandit at a nearby temple. The temple has not offered any financial support but has allowed Devika to take home the fruits and sweets donated at the temple.
Devika's only source of income are the tuition classes she conducts, which earn her around Rs 5,000 a month.
"I love to teach children, so I started giving tuitions. My earnings through tuitions were like my pocket money. Now my pocket money is our means of survival," says Devika.
'Hospital Cheated Us, Didn't Treat Mummy Properly'
As I got to know Devika better, I tried asking her about how her parents fell victims to COVID-19, and what those last days were like. The first thing Devika mentioned was how most of the family savings were gradually spent on trying to get her parents proper treatment.
"Mama’s oxygen level dipped to 72. We found an oxygen cylinder, which lasted just 15 minutes. At 11.30 at night I took my mother to 4-5 government and private hospitals. No one admitted her as beds were not empty. Then we found a hospital in Kurukshetra that had beds. They wanted Rs 30,000 per day. I decided to take Mama to Kurukshetra. I had to save her life at any cost."Devika, victim
Devika reached the Kurukshetra hospital with her mother with loads of hope that her mother would now at least get proper medical attention. Little did she know that she was being cheated by the hospital.
The Kurukshetra hospital did not only over-charge her, Devika claims they also did not give her mother proper medical treatment.
"When we reached, it did not look like a hospital. But I had to admit her. I asked the doctors what medicines they were giving my mother. But they did not share anything. Just kept saying that COVID has no treatment, we’ll treat her if she gets fever. Mama could have survived if she had got proper treatment."Devika, victim
Devika is taking help of an NGO, Prayas, in getting compensation from the Delhi government. To her, the priority is to educate all her siblings.
"We hope the Delhi government will help us. I have filed all the documents needed with the government. All I need is help for my siblings’ education. Education was important to my parents. The future of these kids should not suffer because of money. So I need the government's support."Devika
Devika's other big worry is whether she will prove to be a good parent for her sisters and brother.
"I hope I’m able to pass my parents’ sanskars to my siblings. I worry about what will happen after lockdown, when they start going to school. I am their sister, not mother. I hope I can handle things like my mother did."Devika
Devika and her siblings are among the hundreds of children who were orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even as they look for financial support from the government, they are also trying to recover from the loss of their parents and rebuild their lives.