Wrecked Families

Behind the desperation at the official and societal level for halting the spread of Covid19 and deny any space to the third wave, are the countless stories of pain and loss that thousands of families underwent in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 20 months, reports Yawar Hussain

A civil administration official writing a receipt for the ‘fine’ imposed on a person for violating the Covid19 guidelines. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Beyond the daily numbers attached to more than 4400 people who died of Covid19 since early 2021 in Jammu and Kashmir, there are stories of grief and devastation of families.  Given the crisis attached to the pandemic, these human tragedies remain shrunken to numbers and would take time to unveil.

A 73-year old man from central Kashmir’s Budgam district who lost his battle with the Covid-19 on May 13, 2021, has left behind a poignant tale.

As he breathed his last at Chest Disease Hospital Srinagar, his wife and his only son’s whole family was under quarantine. He had tested positive on May 5, after having been to Srinagar for collecting a payment from a business associate.

“He came back home completely normal. We all had dinner together. He had absolutely no symptom,” his son reminisces, adding that it was on May 7, that they all developed symptoms. “We all got tested and were declared Covid-19 positive. It was on May 9, that my father became very ill and was referred to Srinagar.”

The man with a tag of patient No17 at the hospital died just four days later. However, the man’s whole family was positive and couldn’t even bid him a proper goodbye.

“Only I came out to see him wearing a PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kit. I felt so helpless that I couldn’t even fulfil my duties as a son for the man who not just brought me up but also fulfilled all his duties diligently,” his son regrets.

A businessman by profession, the patient became just a number.

Number 21

A similar case of Covid-19 consuming the life of another man was witnessed on May 18, in Baramulla’s Tulwari village. Registered as case number 21 at the Government Medical College Baramulla, the man breathed his last after fighting the invisible virus for 15 days.

He was admitted to the GMC Baramulla on May 9, after his condition at home deteriorated six days after testing positive for the Covid-19 along with his family of seven including his two sons.

At the entrance of the Shalimar Garden in Srinagar outskirts, the health staff on August 26, 2021, is checking the Covid19 inoculation certificate of all visitors. If they fail to prove that they have taken the vaccine, they have to undergo a test. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

“My brother and I took him to the hospital along with a cousin,” the elder son said. “We were both positive but had no option. Our cousin looked after him while we went home.” Months later, he is personally fighting the post-Covid-19 complications. “Our father’s condition deteriorated just a few days after being admitted. We could only hear him on the phone. We would all wail desperately at home because we knew he would not make it and yet we couldn’t be around him.”

By the time, their father breathed his last, most of the family had tested Covid19 negative. They all participated in his funeral but the emotional scars would never heal. “I couldn’t take care of him when he needed me the most,” the son regretted.

There are many such dreadful and sordid sagas, which the pandemic is scripting in its second vicious and fatal avatar.

More deaths

At Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura, patient number 14, a 55-year-old man from Beehama Ganderbal, died eleven days after he was admitted to the tertiary care hospital with two other members of his family admitted in the same hospital. His daughter and wife recovered a week after his death on May 17.

The deceased man’s wife said she saw her husband dying as she was allowed to go to the Intensive Care Unit where he was on a ventilator.

“His oxygen level was continuously going down. Initially, when we developed symptoms, we just were taking antibiotics and paracetamol. It was only after three days that we thought of going for the test,” the lady widowed by Covid19 said.

She said that she has no idea as to when and where they contracted the virus. “All three of us didn’t travel outside the district. We had been keeping to ourselves. Only my husband would go out to buy things from the local market,” she said.

A doctor and health workers cross a wooden bridge during a Covid-19 vaccination drive in Doodhpathri in Central Kashmir Budgam district on June 9, 2021. The government started a door-to-door vaccination drive to stop the spread of Coronavirus. This meadow is one of the favourite destinations for day picnickers. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

In another similar yet different case, a 66-year old man from downtown Srinagar who died on May 15 was declared negative through a Rapid Antigen Test.

However, when his condition deteriorated at home, he underwent an RT-PCR test, the result of which declared him positive for the Covid-19 on May 5. Subsequently, he was admitted to Chest Disease Hospital Srinagar.

“We felt relieved when the RAT declared him negative. But his condition was troubling us,” the elder of the three sons of the deceased man said.  “We were continuously monitoring his temperature. Those few days were very excruciating for us,” he said, adding that they don’t know where their father contracted the virus from.

“He had no travel history and never met any outsider recently,” his son said. “He was a shopkeeper running a small Kiryana shop, which he opened in the morning and evening hours.”

“My father started to sob when his test result came positive. He said he has put his family in danger,” the son said.“He asked us to stay away from him at the hospital as well.”

The sons would shuttle between the hospital and home, where their mother had tested positive. Unlike their father, she was without any symptoms.

“We thought we will lose them both. We didn’t tell our father that our mother has also tested positive,” the son said. Their father was relieved when his sons and other family members tested negative. While everybody fought and survived, the shopkeeper lost his battle to the virus, apparently because of comorbidities including hypertension and liver disease.

Carnage in Jammu

With Kashmir jammed, Jammu got a comparatively virulent strain of the virus that led to huge mortality in Jammu city. On May 8, the health authorities confirmed the deaths of two sisters-in-law. They were from Jhanghar village in Rajouri’s Nowshera.

But the two deaths did not end the family’s trauma. Two days after burying the two female members, a third female member succumbed to the virus.

A close relative of the family said that the trio was referred to Jammu but two among them died just a day after being admitted.

“The three had contracted the virus from the husband of one of the women who recovered after being treated at home for 16 days,” the relative said, adding that they were worried that even he wouldn’t make it.

The trio has now been buried alongside each other in their native graveyard.

At the entrance of the Shalimar Garden in Srinagar outskirts, the health staff on August 26, 2021, is testing a visitor for Covid19. Visitors planning entry into the Mughal garden is subjected to proof that the person is inoculated against the Covid19 or has to undergo a Covid19 test. This is aimed at preventing mass morbidity in anticipation of the third wave fears. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Misfortune, as they say, never comes alone. In a tragic incident, a woman died soon after hearing the report of her daughter’s death due to Covid19 at village Bhangai in Thanna Mandi area of Rajouri district.

Fifty-six years old Noor Begum, wife of Muneer Hussain, a resident of village Bhangai died of Covid19 at the Government Medical College (GMC) Rajouri. Soon after hearing the report of Noor’s death, her aged mother Akbar Bi wife of Feroz Din, also, a resident of Bhangai, died of shock.

Then, Rajouri had the second-highest active case tally in the Jammu division following just behind the winter capital Jammu itself.

A Pyre For Parents

In Jammu city’s Talab Tillo area an aged couple kept their rendezvous even in death. They died of the Covid-19 with just four hours of difference between their deaths.

As per the deceased couple’s daughter, her father succumbed to Covid-19 at the Government Medical College (GMC) Jammu and after four hours, her mother, who was also positive for the virus, too breathed her last in the same hospital. The last rites of the couple were held together.

“My mother used to pray and say that it was her wish that she should follow my father in death. As if God was sadly listening to her all along,” the daughter said, adding that she lost both her parents within just hours of each other. “We in the family still are trying to figure as to how the virus caught them.”

Three Deaths

In another tragedy, three members of a family succumbed on May 22. They included a 56-year-old man from Ekta Vihar Gangyal, his 50-year-old sister and 54-year-old brother-in-law from Sainik Colony. The two men were transporters while the woman was a housewife.

Ranjeet Singh (name changed), son of one of the deceased men said that his father and uncle had been to Delhi just days before they developed symptoms of the virus.

“Nobody else in our family contracted the virus but the trio fell severely ill. They were in the hospital for nearly 13 days before their death. My aunt died a day prior,” Singh said.

Singh said at the hospital when the trio’s X-Ray reports were examined by the doctor’s they became very anxious. “The reports weren’t good. They put them on medication but my aunt started to cough badly. She was choking the following day. They then shifted her to the ICU where my father and uncle followed,” he said.

In another case on May 22, Pushpa Devi, a 70-year-old woman from Kundgwari in Kishtwar died of Covid19 at the local hospital Kishtwar just two days after her husband, Baldev Raj succumbed to the virus at the GMC Jammu.

People Behind Numbers

Jammu and Kashmir lost scores of academicians and teachers in the ongoing second wave.

On May 2, Professor Irshad Ahmad Hamal, former vice-chancellor of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University lost his battle with the virus.

A day after, an Associate Professor in Sociology at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) died.

On May 10, a 53-year-old government school teacher died of the virus. He was posted at Jammu’s Durga Nagar area while Saint Mary’s Convent School Jammu also lost one of its teachers, Neela Varinder whose husband Harmeet Singh died on May 24.

A couple of days after on May 15, the school education department lost three more teachers to the virus.

The following day, a professor at the Central University of Jammu lost his battle while on May 17, Government Degree College Rajouri’s 33-year-old Assistant Professor Haroon Rashid also died.

On May 18, the virus hit the University of Kashmir which lost two of its academicians. The Zoology Department lost Assistant Professor Dr Mustahson Farooq Fazili while the Electronics Department lost its Head Professor Ghulam Mohiuddin Bhat.

The Covid-19 2.0 also took away Covid warriors including doctors, Tahir Mirza, Mohammad Akram Malik and Busharat Hussain Shah on the same day.

Dr Mirza was posted at Emergency Hospital Chowki Choura in Akhnoor and was undergoing treatment at the Command Hospital Udhampur where he breathed his last. Former Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Poonch, Dr Mohammad Akram Malik, died due to Covid-19 at Narayana Hospital Katra. Dr Busharat Hussain Shah of Mendhar in Poonch district, ISM Doctor, also died due to Covid-19.

Earlier on May 7, a doctor died in the Roop Nagar area of Jammu followed by two more doctors succumbing to the virus on May 15 in Jammu. The duo was identified as Dr ML Sharma and Dr MK Raina.

A Kashmiri doctor in protective gear takes a nasal swab sample of a village woman to test for COVID-19 in Budgam on May 18, 2021. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

On May 21, Dr Inderjyot, 52, the ex-physician of the former chief minister and National Conference (NC) Vice President Omar Abdullah died.

Many government employees also succumbed in the ongoing month including Dr Shamim Ahmad Wani, Special Secretary in the Finance Department.

Deputy Director Prosecution Vigilance Organisation Purshotam Sharma died on May 8, while a former District Sessions Judge also died on the same day.

Earlier on May 6, an Intelligence Bureau Inspector died along with a Naib Tehsildar.

In the subsequent days, two former government employees of Banihal died on May 12 followed by a 46-year-old Senior Manager NHPC who also lost his battle on May 17 along with a 59-year-old Jammu and Kashmir Police Sub Inspector who died on May 21. A State Taxes Department Supervisor died on May 24.

Many politicians and former lawmakers along with members of the civil society also died in the last 30 days.

Former lawmaker Kashmira Singh died on May 5 followed by LAHDC ex-Councillor Sayeeda Bano, Shiv Sena President Abdul Khaliq Bhat, LAHDC ex-Councillor and Congress leader Tsultin Phanchok, and NC’s Provincial Vice President Jammu Gurdeep Singh Sasan.

Right to Information activist Mohammad Ramzan Khan also breathed his last on May 10 followed by Director CNS Kashmir Javed Ahmad Mir who died on May 19.

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