(COVID deaths are more than statistics. This story is The Quint's effort to record and reveal the extent of human tragedy that the pandemic wreaked across the country. This is a story of three children who were forced to take up adult roles overnight after the father lost his life to COVID. Please support us by becoming a Quint member and help us bring you the stories of India's COVID Orphans.)
In a three-room house located by the side of a narrow old city lane, in Falaknuma, Hyderabad live Raheem*, Rabia* and Rehana* (*name changed). What's different about them, when compared to the kids in the neighbourhood, is that they are on their own, without the protective shadow of parents and relatives.
Their father, Gulam Irfan, died of COVID-19 in May 2021. Their mother, Rubina, had died eight years ago. Most relatives have abandoned them, they say.
In their home, Raheem and Rehana are in charge of shopping, cooking, and cleaning. They also take care of their specially-abled sister Rabia. Raheem is 12. The twins – Rabia and Rehana – are 13.
When Papa Left Them
When Gulam Irfan came home with a cold and fever one evening in May 2021, the children did not expect to part with their father so soon. Within days, Irfan's condition worsened. "We even got his friends to procure an oxygen cylinder for him. That too did not help," Raheem told The Quint.
It was the peak of COVID-19's second wave in Hyderabad.
After Irfan's demise on 11 May 2021, the three siblings were left in the care of distant relatives. A neighbour, Syed Afzar Ali, soon stepped in. "The first few days were very difficult for them. Then I saw KTR's (Telangana Minister KT Rama Rao) tweet that advertised a child helpline. I got in touch with Hyderabad district collectorate," Ali said.
Living at home, the children were struggling. Everything around reminded them of their parents. "Our papa used to be nice. He used to joke and smile a lot. He used to buy us things and take us out," Rabia, who is still learning her English alphabet, said. At home, the children have left intact many of their father's belongings. Till date, they have not removed their father's clothes from where they were left months ago.
Their house is a web of memories. However, they are hopeful of their future.
Scholarship, Rations, Classes
Raheem, wants to be cricketer or a doctor. "I want to be a doctor because my father used to work in Asra hospital. I think of becoming a cricketer when I watch matches on television," he said. His sister Rabia dreams of becoming a police officer. Rehana wants to be a teacher.
The children are attending online classes, Hyderabad collectorate officials, who have been supporting them said. "We give each of the COVID orphans in our district a monthly scholarship of Rs 2,000. Rations are also given," said Akkeshwar Rao, project director for women and child welfare wing of the Hyderabad Collectorate.
The children think they will make it on their own but nights are scary they admit. "Rabia feels scared when lights are turned off at night. So we keep one light on," said Rehana.