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Home > 2021 > Requiem for an unknown Nun in the time of Covid | John Dayal

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 25, New Delhi, June 5, 2021

Requiem for an unknown Nun in the time of Covid | John Dayal

Friday 4 June 2021, by John Dayal


24 May 2021

Recently, the Editors Guild of India condoled the deaths of journalists of over 100 news reporters, newspapers, intranet platforms and independent grassroots media persons, who have died because of Covid-19 over the past year. In April 2021 itself, more than 52 journalists died because of the virus. Many of these were brave journalists who had been reporting on the worsening pandemic and bringing to fore stories on the great human tragedy that has been unfolding before us.

The central government itself acknowledged the “frontline healthcare workers” where vulnerable, disclosing in the Lok Sabha that 174 doctors, 116 nurses and 199 healthcare workers succumbed to the virus in the country. The Indian Medical Association said in 2020, the first wave, as many as 750 doctors had been killed. By May 2021, it was known that 270 doors had died in the second wave, many of them women, and a very large number of them very young in the profession. Some day we will perhaps have more exact figures.

Police forces, fire fighters. Ambulance drivers, the sextants, grave diggers, cremation ghat attendants, the humble delivery boys working for food and other Apps, and perhaps even auto divers who in Covid showed extrabodily heart helping people to the hospital, or bodies to their last journey, will have their own stories to tell, their own lists of martyrs to publish, and remember.

Patently all these numbers pale into significance before the several lakh killed in the two phases of the Pandemic which caught India totally unprepared, not once but twice in every aspect of combating the disease – from adequate number of hospital bed, oxygen, medicines, vaccines to such morbid issues like sending bodies to cremation grounds, and even a shortage of such place. And if there is to be a Third wave of the virus assault, one fears the government system will again be found wanting. It remains preoccupied with the falsification of data and protecting the reptation of the leader of the nation.

For the survivors of those who did serving the people, there may not be easy closure. Government and media tell them their breadwinners died serving the people true to the vows and oaths they had taken. Is there solace in this? A moot question. Could better equipment and safety measures have saved lives, a better sense of projecting the needs and preparing for the extreme have helped lessen the risks are questions on the conscience of governments at all levels.

The sense of duty is a real thing, and not a slogan. The soldier may have joined the army because of poverty and the lure of a government job. But in hand to hand combat with his counterpart from a hostile neighbour, it is this duty that is the hormone that fuels his mind and his well-trained muscles. The doctor and nurses, who may not be so noble in their private family life, transform into something very different in the Operation Theatre and Intensive Care unit. I have witnessed this myself in recent times as a patient.

Calling, religious Calling, is the same as the call of duty. But it is also very different. And more.

This came to mind when Capuchin Fr Suresh Mathew, the Editor in chief of the Catholic Indian Currents weekly magazine – a unique journal known for its political punch published a list that stunned church and secular world alike.

Suresh published a table listing the names of all catholic priests and religious nuns he could know of who had died in March, April and May this year in the covid death cloud. It had names of 168 priests, including three bishop, and 143 nuns. Understandably , a comparatively larger number , 30, were from Kerala, where Christian are over 20 percent of he population. Twelve nuns belonging to a single congregation, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, who have been working among the community, especially among leprosy patients, are no more.

Sr Jessy Kurien, a former member of the National Commission for Minorities Education Institutions, and now practising in the Supreme Court and a Covid-19 survivor, says the high rate of casualties among the nuns is due to them working in remote areas where good medical facilities are rare, their asymptomatic condition and delay in proper diagnosis.

Why do nuns, and many priests work in remote areas? The RSS and some others may say their main objective is to seduce the innocent people and convert them to Christianity. This is not the place to rebut this or to argue that this is such an insult to our fellow Indians who are mature enough to join or oppose political ideologies and parties in general elections over 70 years and institute a significant portion of our labour force. Their choice of faith is for theirs to decide.

But it remains. Fact is that these are areas where the government is still absent other than during elections. Medicare is near absent. Educational facilities near absent.
These are areas the nuns and clergy go to work, voluntarily, on subsistence allowances. Their joining the religious congregations is a voluntary act, as it is in the case of nuns or religious women mong the Jain and Hindu Sadhvis. Or even the Brahm Kumaris.

Officialdom correctly recognises the inherent bravery and sense of duty that motivates frontline workers to help the critically ill, often at great risk to themselves. It is just and proper that those who pay with their lives be honoured, and their families compensated.

But we as people must recognise those who stand by their calling and continue to serve ill their last breath. They deserve our gratitude, respect and love.

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