Dignified Burials for COVID deceased in Kashmir - By Pratishtha Chhetri

Sajad Ahmad Khan helped deal with the mindsets regarding the stigma around Covid-19 deceased.

Sajad's Ahmed Khan's usual route for evening walks close to his grocery store in Bemina (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

Sajad Ahmad Khan

When Sajad Ahmad Khan witnessed a COVID-19 deceased woman being buried and noticed that her relatives were scared to go near her body or offer funeral prayers, he was moved by the scene. This experience made him realise the urgent need to manage dignified burials for victims of COVID-19. He ran to his departmental store and returned with eight Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits, which he gave to these people who then carried the coffin and buried the lady in the graveyard. Later that day, he posted on his Facebook page, ‘Athwaas’, that he can be contacted if a family wants to ensure a safe burial of a COVID victim.

Sajad receives a phone call for a home delivery. (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

During the lockdown, Sajad's was one of the twenty-three grocery stores in Srinagar permitted by the government to operate for a home delivery service. He took this opportunity to help fellow store owners, supplying their goods for them and thus helping them maintain a source of income during the pandemic.

Sheikh Factory, Anjum Masjid, Bemina (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

The factory where Sajad supplied the material and even the machine to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits in bulk. He distributed these PPEs amongst doctors free of cost at a time when the government supply of protective gears was falling short. These kits were also used by him and his team during burials.

Sheikh Factory, Anjum Masjid, Bemina (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

A machine donated by Sajad to help manufacture PPEs. 

He supplied free PPEs to doctors dealing with COVID-19 victims.

Conducting a funeral safely is an important aspect (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

Sajad keeps the equipment required for the job - spades, sanitiser machine, PPE kits and ropes - in his car for volunteers, to ensure that burial services are managed without any harm to anyone.

Bemina Stadium, Srinagar (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

The open ground where Sajad and his team of volunteers often disinfected themselves after a burial with a disinfectant spraying machine, following which they'd burn their PPEs.

Burying a COVID-19 dead (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

Sajad spent from his own pocket for the sake of the burials.

He and his team's help was sought by many in the region, and he made sure all the burials were carried out with dignity and honour. During the pandemic, the team carried out more than 100 burials.

Hard at work (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

Sajad rummages through the old stock to clear out the expired goods. During the COVID-19 lockdown, there was seldom any demand for non-essential items which were otherwise bought by customers when they came to the grocery store. Delivery items mainly consisted of food and sanitary products. Products like cosmetics went unsold and subsequently had to be trashed.

Kiswa (10 years) learns how to skate (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

Sajad was perturbed by the lack of activity amongst children during the extended periods of lockdown. Worried about their mental well-being, he decided to bring together the neighbourhood children for free skating lessons.

Kashmir has been under multiple lockdown since August 2019, and children haven't been to school in two years.

Rasika & Sajad wait at the school cash counter (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

Sajad's finances suffered a severe blow when his travel agency shut down due to the pandemic. After multiple requests by the concerned authorities of Doon International School, Srinagar finally agreed to accept fees in installments. Sadly they didn't offer any concession in the fees even during such times.

Lunch break with family (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

Sajad with his family, Rasika (wife, 37), Ayaan (son, 10), Maham (daughter, 4) and Shazada Akhter (mother, 65). 

He often comes home for lunch. Sometimes, after lunch, he takes a power nap or catches up with his wife on neighbourhood news, before heading back to the store.

His daily bread (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

Sajad's daily breakfast consists of nun chai (or pink tea) with Tsot or Girda (Kashmiri bread) from the next-door bakery.

On a drive (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

Sajad goes on a drive with his children, Ayaan (10 years) and Maham (4 years). He is a doting father and has a passion for driving.

Malkah Nauhatta Cemetery, Srinagar (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

This is the graveyard where Sajad and his team of volunteers buried most of the Covid-19 casualties. Unlike many places across the Muslim world, the graveyards are part of family possession and inheritance in Srinagar, and Nauhatta Cemetery is one such community cemetery.

Masjid Mohalla Jaat & Graveyard (2020) by Pratishtha Chhetri#COVIDHeroes

Regardless of faith and religion, on receiving distress calls for burial assistance he readily agrees to help. 

“Be it anyone, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, we remain ready for the proper burial of our departed brethren,” says Sajad. Over a period of time through his work he changed the mindset of people regarding the stigma around the Covid-19 dead. For instance, earlier his team of volunteers worked anonymously but subsequently they were able to carry out burials openly and proudly, as the support for their work increased.

Credits: Story

Artist Pratishtha Chhetri

Artist Bio
Pratishtha Chhetri is an independent documentary filmmaker and photographer. She has previously worked with the National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development as a short filmmaker and has helped various NGOs in Policy Research & Advocacy. She also holds a P.G. Diploma in Communications for Development (UNICEF) from Xavier’s Institute of Communications, Mumbai.

Pratishtha uses photography as a medium to create visual evidence in the field of developmental communications. She sincerely hopes that her photographs bring to the fore issues that need human empathy the most and contribute to the world’s dialogues on development.

Project location: Srinagar, Kashmir

#my2020hero is an initiative by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Chennai Photo Biennale Foundation (CPB) to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of real-life heroes by sharing their stories.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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