Jaipur: When 36-year-old Rajendra Bagari died at sunset Sunday, his cousin Anju did not know what to do with the body. Apart from his younger brother and an uncle, there were no men around to carry the bier to the cremation ground 4 km from his house in Jaipur’s Shastri Nagar.
“When he died Sunday evening, several people came to our home as we grieved. We are the only Hindu family in the area we live in, and our Muslim neighbours came to comfort us at the time,” Anju, a rag-picker, told ThePrint.
Bagari had been suffering from cancer of the throat for two and a half months. Due to the 21-day nationwide lockdown announced on 24 March, none of Bagari’s relatives from outside Jaipur could come for his funeral.
His Muslim neighbours then stepped in and decided to help. On Monday, they did everything — from chanting ‘Ram naam satya hai’ to carrying the ‘arthi handi’, traditionally done by the eldest son in the family.
“It was the least we could do,” Mohamed Faheem Qureishi, Bagari’s neighbour told ThePrint. “There were no Hindu people in the area. It was painful to see them struggle, and because we have known them, we decided to step in.”
The priest at the cremation ground, Nathunath Swamy, thought it nothing short of a miracle. “I’ve never in my 15 years of being a priest seen anything like this,” he said. “This kind of unity can protect us from even coronavirus.”
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‘Could not take him to hospital’
The lockdown put Bagari’s family at a special disadvantage, Anju said. They were able to stock up on medication since the announcement, but Rajendra’s health began deteriorating.
“First he complained of pain and stopped working, then he stopped eating. When his condition worsened, I wanted to take him to the State Cancer Institute where he was being treated, but there was no way to reach there,” she told ThePrint, adding she feared police action if they ventured out.
While Anju is a rag-picker, Bagari sold plastic items such as buckets for a living. Incomes of both came to a grinding halt after the lockdown came into effect.
“The family was struggling to feed themselves adequately, and so some of us also shared our ration with them,” said Abdul Hamid, another neighbour.
Coronavirus and communalism
After Islamic movement Tablighi Jamaat’s religious congregation in New Delhi in mid-March resulted in a spike in India’s Covid-19 cases, Muslims across the country have reportedly faced discrimination and been blamed for spreading the virus.
“This Hindu-Muslim (fight) needs to stop,” said Faheem. “We must stand together, especially during times like this.”
Bagari’s family expressed their gratitude for the help their Muslim neighbours rendered. But other worries still remain.
“We were relieved they came to help us. But if this lockdown continues, I’m afraid of being pushed into complete destitution,” Anju said.
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