India’s COVID Deaths: Those Who Have Died Aren’t Merely Numbers
A documentary that narrates the trauma caused by COVID-19 deaths in India, scarring families across the country.
Cameraperson: Sanjoy Deb, Abhishek Ranjan
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Production Assistant: Devika Shah
Reporter & Producer: Tridip K Mandal
“I still hear those voices, they are not seeing daddy. I said pump him...something has happened to his heart...pump him. Push him, push him harder...do something to daddy. [sic.]”Amarpreet Kaur, Daughter of Late Lakhjeet Singh
When you lose a loved one, it becomes almost impossible to overcome the trauma caused by the loss. Amarpreet’s is one such case, who lost her father, Lakhjeet Singh, to COVID-19. He died outside the gate of the LNJP Hospital in Delhi on the morning of 4 June 2020.
More than a lakh Indians have died of COVID-19 but no data, daily bulletins or numbers can ever truly encapsulate the grief and pain of losing a father, son, mother, wife, friend to the contagious virus.
Numbed By Numbers
On 12 March 2020, India reported its first COVID-19 death in Karnataka. Almost seven months later, on 2 October, the disease had killed 1 lakh Indians. We have reached a situation where the numbers have numbed us as we keep a tab on them without much care.
During the Independence Day week, Inspector Sanjay Sharma of the Delhi Police fell ill. Since Delhi was on high alert, he was working from home despite being on a sick leave. He could finally get himself admitted to the hospital only on 15 August, after listening to PM Modi’s speech on the television. However, by then, his condition had worsened.
“The doctor or nurse, whoever was there, told us that the case was out of their hands; it was too late. When the X-ray was taken, 60 percent of the lungs was foggy, infected. Even then, they agreed to work with 40 percent. They used injection and oxygen cylinder to stabilize his condition. However, his COVID test had still not been done. When he reached a critical condition, his COVID test was conducted, and it turned out to be positive. By then, everything was over.”Aruna Pathak Sharma, Widow of Late Sanjay Sharma
On 18 October, the doctors at the Spinal Research Institute Delhi declared Sharma dead. He died of COVID-19 within 11 days of getting infected by the virus.
The Struggle for Treatment
Ever since the pandemic, there has been a shortage of hospital beds to accommodate the huge number of cases. Lakhjeet Singh tested positive on May 30. The tweets by Amarpreet Kaur holds testimony to her desperation to get her sick father admitted at a hospital on time.
Lakhjeet Singh died outside the gate of the LNJP hospital on the morning of 4 June. Amarpreet alleges that he could have been saved if the hospital admitted her sick father on time.
“As my brother went inside, the doctor checked the papers and said that he is a patient of Gangaram Hospital. Please take him to Gangaram...please don’t bring him here, we will not be able to admit him. I could hear my brother pleading, crying, pushing daddy, and it took them 20 minutes to give them an oxygen cylinder. They just gave him the oxygen and they went away. They did not check anything, and they declared that your patient is no more. You should have taken him to Gangaram, he is not our patient.”Amarpreet Kaur, Daughter of Late Lakhjeet Singh.
Lakhjeet Singh died within 10 days of being infected. The LNJP issued a press release the same day clarifying that Lakhjeet Singh was brought dead to the hospital and that the hospital never refused admission.
Doubt Over Data
How many people have died of COVID-19 in India? The official COVID-19 bulletin released every day is tracking the numbers, but many feel that the actual death toll may be much higher, as many deaths go unaccounted for.
Late Narayan Mitra of Silchar died on 16 July at the Silchar Medical College and Hospital. His last rites were performed according to the COVID-19 protocol. The hospital cited COVID-19 as the reason of his death, but his name was never included in the official list of deaths caused by the disease in Assam.
“I came to know about my father’s death through media when Guwahati Death Audit Board said that it happened due to Myasthenia and not COVID-19. Just a few days ago, I got to know via media from the Silchar Medical College and Hospital that my father had tested positive of the virus. What they have written in the death certificate is still unknown to us. The Silchar Medical Hospital says that my father’s death was due to Corona, but the Guwahati Death Audit Board says it happened due to Myasthenia. Now what is wrong and what is right is still unknown.”Abhijit Mitra, Son of Late Narayan Mitra
Six members of Narayan Mitra's family tested positive a day after his death.
'Coping with the Trauma is Not Easy'
The Quint spoke to six families across India who had lost their loved ones to the virus. Almost every family had one regret – they were not able to give a proper farewell to the departed. It was the lack of closure that they were finding difficult to cope with.
“He is a single child, and so it’s his right to cremate his father. But my husband was sealed in a bag. We couldn’t even see his face for the last time. It could have been a transparent bag. My son asks sometimes that how do we even know if it was his Dad’s body.”Aruna Pathak Sharma, Widow of Late Sanjay Sharma
“When his body was taken from the hospital to the mortuary and from the mortuary to be cremated by the hospital, he was covered in that poly bag. We couldn’t even give him a blanket. This was very painful.”Amarpreet Kaur, Daughter of Late Lakhjeet Singh
It is this pain that most families will live with forever. Try putting a face to those who have died, think about their families; what if, it was someone close to you. Perhaps only then we will begin to look beyond the statistics and acknowledge the loss of a human life.
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