Loss of jobs and salary cuts following the spread of COVID-19 have pushed many people into financial distress. Sheikh Sharif, a daily wage labourer, is one such person who has not been able to find work for the past few months and make ends meet. So he started to lift the bodies of COVID-19 victims from Gandhi Hospital, Musheerabad, to earn a livelihood.
The 21-year-old man lives with his family under a bus shelter a few feet away from Gandhi Hospital — which is the largest COVID isolation centre in the State. Despite rising number of COVID-19 cases, they continue to live there.
Sharif got married to Pallavi (around 22 years) over two years ago. The couple have a male child and they live along with three other families under the small bus shelter and footpath. When asked how and where they met, Sharif pointed to Musheerabad crossroads and said, “There.” After restrictions on entry into the government hospital were implemented from April first week, barricades were placed on one side of the road that runs alongside the bus shelter. Children from the family play on the road where vehicles do not ply now.
Sharif used to be part of a band troupe who played music at functions in the city. He and Pallavi worked at function halls too to earn money. After lockdown was implemented to contain coronavirus, the family lost their livelihood options. “People used to donate food during the complete lockdown. But no one does that now,” Pallavi said.
Paid ₹500 per body
Devoid of means to earn money, Sharif started to lift dead bodies from the mortuary. “We carry the bodies to the graveyard after taking all precautions such as wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We are paid around ₹500 per body. In a day, we lift two or three bodies,” he said.
Two more persons, Srikanth and Chintu, who live there lift bodies of the COVID-19 victims. While people now shudder to even stand for a few minutes anywhere near the hospital, these families have stayed put there even after the pandemic broke, and they are involved in the high-risk work. Some of them have been living there from over seven years.
When asked if any of them tested positive for coronavirus or showed symptoms of COVID-19, Srikanth says none fell sick in the past four months. “If not coronavirus, something else might claim our lives. We are not scared,” said Srikanth, sitting under the bus shelter. A woman who was trying to pacify her child sleeping in a makeshift hammock made out of saree tied to two ends of an advertisement board, listened intently to what he said.
Pallavi hopes that the State government would allots them a two-bedroom house which will put a roof over their heads. “It would be of great help to us,” she said.