Two weeks ago, Nusra* lost her uncle. He was the latest in her family to succumb to the dreaded Covid and was one of three relatives to die within days of each other. She got the news late at night. Her newly widowed aunt pleaded with Nusra and her husband for help with funeral arrangements.
Waiting till morning because of the lockdown curfew, Nusra’s husband Aman* rushed over to see what needed to be done. First, he had to visit the mortuary at Colombo’s General hospital to identify the body. Then, he had to accompany the body to its final resting place in Oddamavadi in the East of the country.
The government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa decreed when the coronavirus pandemic first hit, that those who succumb to the virus will not be buried but cremated. The government maintained that burials would contaminate ground water. It changed its stance only when it had to face the United National Human Rights Council hearing in February this year. Yet, it ordered that Covid victims be buried in Oddamvadi; this means that relatives must travel hundreds of miles whenever they want to visit the gravesite of a loved one, or accompany the body to its final resting place.
He was given a number at the morgue. Their uncle was body number 2**3. While it is not compulsory to accompany the body, the Army had advised Aman that it would be good if he does, so that he could see where it was buried. They had offered to take him in one of their trucks, but he managed to borrow a car from one of his friends to make the journey along with the deceased’s daughter and a friend.
Once back in Colombo, Aman and Nusra visited their aunt. She lived with her only child, a daughter who was married with a six year old daughter of her own.
The daughter’s husband worked abroad but had lost his job and was unable to send any money home. As she walked into their house, Nusra found her aunt, cousin and the little girl, seated quietly, hands on heads. She also noticed that the house looked strangely empty. It was then that her aunt told her that they had been selling off household items in order to survive. Though her late husband was a mechanic, they had been really struggling during the pandemic. Without any support from their son-in-law, they had virtually no income.
The new fridge was gone. So was the TV and the radio.
Nusra and her husband are also struggling, but unable to bear her aunt’s plight, she pawned her own little daughter’s earrings and her engagement ring and gave her aunt Rs. 22, 000/-
They will survive for a bit longer with that money.
*Names changed to protect identity.