Eight months after the novel coronavirus arrived in India, the number of deaths from the disease has crossed 100,000. Nearly 6.5 million people have been infected in total, second only to the number in the United States.
Reuters met and interviewed relatives of 30 people who died of the disease in India, from Kerala in the south to Kashmir in the north.
The 30 victims were ordinary people from all walks of life and included police officers and doctors on the frontlines of the fight against the virus.
Shakeel Ahmad Baba
Khushboo, 26, a student, shows a picture on her phone of her father Shakeel Ahmad Baba, a government employee, who died due to Covid-19, as she poses for a photograph, in Srinagar, September 24.
“Our lives changed drastically after my father passed away, he was a loving father, a decision maker,” said Khushboo. “He died because of improper healthcare facilities in the hospital. He would have survived had there been a proper oxygen supply in the hospital. A day before his death I spoke to him on the phone and he told me to pray for him and the next day he passed away. His death left a great void in our entire family,”
Sanjib Chatterjee, 34, who works in a call centre, shows a picture on his phone of his mother Chitra Chatterjee, 62, a housewife, who died due to Covid-19, as he poses for a photograph, in Kolkata on September 25.
“The last memory was when she was diagnosed with Covid-19,” said Chatterjee. “We came to know about it after we received a call from the health department saying that she needed to visit the hospital.”
He added, “I hugged her and told her don’t worry and we will be back soon.”
Fardeen Khan, 19, a student, shows a picture on his phone of his mother Noor Jahan, a housewife, who died due to the coronavirus disease, in New Delhi on September 27.
“Since my mother died, my life has changed,” Fardeen Khan said. “There is no cure or vaccine for the disease and I wish there was one and my mother would have survived. I miss my mom a lot, as everyday she used to ask me where I was going, when will I be back home, the moment I used to step out of our house.”
“I want people to follow precautions like social distancing etc until there is a cure for the disease,” Khan said.
Niranjan Poddar, 50, a businessman, shows a picture on his phone of his mother Kausalya Devi Poddar, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 27.
“I feel like I have lost that shade, that shadow that was guarding me and I do not know with whom I will share all my problems,” said Niranjan Poddar. “It is a big change in my life and I have made some resolutions after her death and I hope she blesses me and I am able to keep them.”
Asim Khan, a businessman, shows a picture on his phone of his brother-in-law Jamal Khan, 41, a farmer, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 24.
According to Asim, Jamal developed a fever in August and local doctors failed to realise he was Covid-positive. It was only when he was transferred to Delhi, ten days after he first became ill, that he was diagnosed. By then, his lungs were badly damaged, and he died soon after, according to his brother, Asim.
“My brother-in-law was a farmer,” said Asim Khan. “He never got sick and was healthy. If he would have been diagnosed on time in his own native place, he would have surely survived.”
Nimesh Ketananand Indrekar, 36, a teacher, shows a picture on his phone of his father Ketananand Indrekar, 60, who died due to Covid-19, in Ahmedabad on September 26.
“We are 10 years back due to corona and if it is not controlled fast, we will face lots of problems,” Indrekar said. “We support the government to take more action to tackle the pandemic and they should create more awareness about the virus.”
Tilak Raj, 38, a software engineer, shows a picture on his phone of his mother Krishna Devi, a housewife, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 26.
Raj said when his mother was hospitalised, there was no oxygen in the ambulance. When they arrived at the hospital, the cylinder that was provided was empty in five minutes. “If we had a better health system, my mother would have survived,” he said. “My mother died in front of my eyes and I helplessly covered her eyes with a bed-sheet.”
“‘Take care of yourself my son’ were the last words from my mother and I will never forget those words,” Raj added.
Haji Ghulam Mohammad Rather
Employee of religious trust
Mohammad Hayat, 55, a government employee, shows a picture on his phone of his father Haji Ghulam Mohammad Rather, an employee at a Muslim trust board, who died due to Covid-19, in Srinagar on September 25.
“I have had a bitter experience of this ongoing pandemic because the government is not prepared even after months of lockdown,” said Hayat. “We shifted our father from one hospital to another as there was a shortage of ventilators. Lockdown periods gave authorities enough time to get ready for the pandemic but people, especially clerics of mosques and other religious heads, should come out to spread awareness about the pandemic.”
“My father used to help people regardless of religion, caste. Our family is incomplete without him and all I can do is to pray for his soul,” said Hayat.
Mohd Irfan, a businessman, shows a picture on his phone of his father Mohd Mobin, 59, who was also a businessman, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 22.
“My whole world has collapsed,” said Irfan. “He was everything for us. He was like a roof on me and to my family. He protected us. I don’t have any words to describe the loss.”
“I lost my mother a few years back and now him,” he said. “This pandemic has hit us hard. Life will not be the same again. I miss his presence.”
Bhaginath Jagannath Adhav
Rahul Adhav, 26, a pharmacist, shows a picture on his phone of his father Bhaginath Jagannath Adhav, a police officer, who died due to Covid-19, in Mumbai on September 28.
“Life has become lonely since my father passed away, no one can take his place in the family,” said Adhav. “My dad did his best while on duty urging the general public to maintain physical distancing etc. I request people to maintain a physical distance and co-operate with the police.”
“The police are doing their best to serve you,” said Adhav. “I also request that the government provide financial support to families of police who died while serving the people in the pandemic.”
Mayank Singhi 29, a businessman, shows a picture on his phone of his father Motilal Singhi, 59, also a businessman, who died due to Covid-19, in Kolkata on September 25.
“The life of our family has changed after the death of my father,” Mayank said. “He was the pillar of the family. Not only my family, he was kind of a pillar to the society we live in.”
“He himself, dedicated 25 years as a Kolkata traffic police warden which was an honorary service,” Mayank said.
Biplab Kumar Chatterjee, 65, a laboratory technician, shows a picture on his phone of his mother-in-law Krishna Ghosh, 85, a housewife, who died due to Covid-19, in Kolkata, September 27.
“My mother-in-law’s loss is painful,” said Chatterjee. “I was also Covid positive. I recovered but my mother-in-law died.”
“She was in a private hospital for three days; we had tried our best but could not save her because of her age and she had many other health problems,” Chatterjee said.
Retired railway worker
Yogender Pal, 39, a paramedic in a government-run hospital, shows a picture on his phone of his father Shri Motiram, 79, a retired railway employee, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 24.
“Things change after a family member dies,” said Pal. “My father was like the roof that protects all of us and now it is like the roof has come crashing down.”
Police head constable
Rekha Khandait, 38, a housewife, shows a picture on her phone of her husband Jayant Khandait, 58, a police head constable, who died due to Covid-19, in Mumbai on September 27.
“I know my husband has passed away but I can still feel his presence,” said Khandait. “I cannot believe that six months have passed. I still haven’t told our son about his father’s death.”
Abida Begum, 55, a housewife, shows a picture on her phone of her son-in-law Luqman Ahmed, a factory worker, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 26.
“My son-in-law was a good husband, a good father,” Begum said. “He is gone too early. A lack of medical facilities killed him. He would have survived had there been proper medical care in hospitals.”
“I appeal the government to ensure that they have good medical facilities in hospitals for the poor like us, so that people survive this pandemic,” Begum said.
Shaikh Ansar Ahmed
Retired government employee
Sana Shaikh, 18, a student, shows a picture on her phone of her father Shaikh Ansar Ahmed, a retired government employee, who died due to Covid-19, in Mumbai on September 27.
“Everything has changed,” said Shaikh. “ We have lost a big support, we have lost the only male member of the family. After my dad’s demise, I do not enjoy things that I used to enjoy doing when he was around.”
“My mother has obviously faced a bigger change in her life,” Shaikh added. “Our life will be stable in the future but it will be extremely difficult for my mother to carry on without her husband. Public healthcare must be of high quality and free of cost for poor and middle-class people in the pandemic.”
Sunita Patil, 44, a housewife, shows a picture on her phone of her husband Vivek Patil, a music teacher, who died due to Covid-19, in Mumbai on September 27. Vivek died suddenly at home in Mumbai before a bed at a local hospital became available. The next morning, Sunita said, municipal workers came to the house shouting for them to come outside to be taken to a quarantine centre.
“They were not sensitive to the fact that there has been a death in the family just a day back, and we are in mourning,” she said. “I have two young daughters with almost no income. It will be very hard for us to live without my beloved husband.”
Champaben Bhaijibhai Dantani
Gitaben Bipinbhai Vakil, 39, a scrap trader, shows a picture on her phone of her mother Champaben Bhaijibhai Dantani, 60, also a scrap trader, who died due to Covid-19, in Ahmedabad on September 24.
“People have been careful about the pandemic and try to follow government guidelines, but in our locality, residents do not follow the guidelines and do not wear masks and it is the reason my mother got Covid-19,” Vakil said.
Bela Ghosh Dastidar
Lipika Ghosh Dastidar, 48, who works for an NGO, shows a picture on her phone of her mother-in-law Bela Ghosh Dastidar, 72, a housewife, who died due to Covid-19, in Kolkata on September 26.
“My mother-in-law, you can say, was my only support in my in-law’s house for the last 25 years,” said Dastidar. “She was almost my mother. It is heartbreaking that we took so much care of her, but she passed away in this pandemic.”
“My brother-in-law and my husband’s younger brother who stay in London, couldn’t come for her last rites. We lost her and we are still in trauma,” said Dastidar.
Mohammad Ashraf Baba
Humera Ulfat, 42, a housewife, shows a picture on her phone of her father Mohammad Ashraf Baba, a shopkeeper, who died due to Covid-19, in Srinagar, September 26.
“It pains me whenever I recall my dad lying on a hospital bed helplessly,” said Ulfat. “Doctors did not fulfil their duty the way that they were supposed to. They never came close to my father to examine him. Eventually, he died.”
“Authorities should educate not only the public but healthcare professionals as well,” said Ulfat. “My father would have been alive, as we speak, had he been given proper medical aid in the hospital. His absence is something that nobody can fill. My life will not be like before, never.”
Amrutha Sangeeth, a housewife, shows a picture on her phone of her mother Sathy Vasudevan, 64, also a housewife, who died due to Covid-19, on the outskirts of Kochi on September 25.
“My mother was suffering from a liver disease and was bedridden,” said Sangeeth. “A delay in the test result was one of the reasons she died. We could not move easily as six other family members got infected and were later hospitalised.”
“It was really tough for my younger sister to arrange for last rites etc as neighbours stayed away and were afraid of contracting the virus,” she said.
Aliza Ali, 12, shows a picture on her phone of her father Javed Ali, a government doctor, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 23.
“He was taking all the precautions while continuously working on the frontline without any breaks until he got symptoms,” said Javed Ali’s wife, Hena Kausar, a doctor. “I am proud of him. My children are proud of him. But we are having an extremely difficult time to cope with the present situation. Not a single day goes by when we don’t remember Javed and cry.”
Mir Umer Altaf, 31, a sales head in a pharmaceutical company, shows a picture on his phone of his grandmother Syeeda Begum, who died due to Covid-19, in Srinagar on September 25.
“My grandmother had attended a wedding ceremony and after a week she started showing symptoms of the disease,” said Altaf. “As I deal with healthcare, I got her tested and she was positive but asymptomatic. A few days later, she had problems breathing and we managed to put her on oxygen at home, but then her condition worsened and she suddenly passed away.”
“She was a pious and she died a martyr, as according to our belief, whoever dies due to a virus in a pandemic is a martyr,” said Altaf.
Mohd Rehan, holds a phone with the photograph of his brother Mohd Fareed, 62, a businessman, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 24.
“He had no symptoms and was laughing when the first test results came,” said Mohd Rehan, a businessman. “He thought there was some mistake. His health suddenly deteriorated the next day and he died a day after.”
“It was unbelievable,” Rehan said. “He was a very jolly person.”
Hospital ward boy
Bhagwati Devi, 48, a housewife, shows a picture on her phone of her husband Mahesh, 49, a ward boy in a government-run hospital, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 26.
Mahesh’s son Mayank said, “So many things changed. We were only three of us. Now it feels empty.”
“I do not get to sleep at night,” he said. “I keep remembering my father’s face and keep thinking of all the sweet memories. There was a sudden rise in cases.”
“We were scared about infection in our house as our father was working in a hospital,” he said. “First, we were not that scared as everything was closed and we did not realise that the rate of infection would spread so much.”
Renu Verma, 49, a housewife, shows a picture on her phone of her husband Rajkumar Verma, 54, a driver, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 26.
“In the evening my husband started feeling unwell,” said Renu. “I called a neighbour and got an ambulance and took him to a hospital which is right across the road.”
“He stopped responding in the ambulance as the hospital was not ready to take him inside, saying that there is no bed,” she said. “He was taken inside the hospital on a stretcher only after I went to a doctor and told the medics that my husband is not responding.”
Vinodbhai Maganbhai Patel
Dixit Vinodbhai Patel, 19, a student, shows a picture on his phone of his father Vinodbhai Maganbhai Patel, 54, a shopkeeper, who died due to Covid-19, in Ahmedabad on September 25.
“After my father’s death, all responsibility is on my head as my father was the only earning member in our family,” Dixit said. “Presently I try to fulfil all family requirements, I try to be a good son, a loving brother.”
“My college is closed at the movement, but when it starts, I will quit my studies to take care of my family,” Dixit said.
Nadeem Akhtar, a social worker, shows a picture on his phone of his sister Shabana Ahmed, 52, an architect, who died due to Covid-19, in New Delhi on September 24.
“What really upsets me more than the healthcare system was the behaviour of society,” Akhtar said. “My sister’s neighbourhood boycotted her family. There was no emotional or moral support even after her death. Society failed us.”
Balbir Mulchand Kanojia
Yogesh Kanojia, 36, a businessman, shows a picture on his phone of his father Balbir Mulchand Kanojia, 57, also a businessman, who died due to Covid-19, in Ahmedabad on September 25.
“In our country, there is almost no healthcare system, it is zero percent, the government advises people to drink warm water and take Ayurvedic medicine and live at your own risk,” Kanojia said.