There are no rose petals spread over the grave. It is a quiet, sombre and quick affair

If the grave is ready, it doesn't take much time to pray and bury the dead, says KMC's graveyards director.
Updated 27 May, 2020 07:01pm

Last week one of Karachi's prominent physicians passed away after contracting Covid-19. The last rites of this doctor were performed in a very simple and low-keyed manner and in line with the protocol laid out by the government.

His neighbour AZ* says she cannot get over the "impersonal" way in which he was laid to rest where those who loved him could not "see his face or be with his wife and son".

"My brother could not partake in the last rituals," she lamented, adding: "Had there been no lockdown, not just the lane where he lived, but the entire mohalla (neighbourhood) and beyond, would have joined in the namaz-i-janaza."

Since the pandemic, a certain protocol is being observed by all hospitals. At the isolation ward of Dow University of Health Sciences' Ojha campus, as soon as someone is confirmed positive and when he or she is admitted, this information is relayed to the Sindh government's health department. "In case of death, along with the relatives, government authorities are informed immediately and the Edhi Foundation's ambulance comes with a wooden coffin. We provide them with the PPE and they give ghusal (last bath) to the body on our premises, wrap the body, place it in the coffin and take it straight to the graveyard," says Dr Shobha Luxmi, who heads the isolation ward at the DUHS. Someone from the district health office is also present until the body is packed in the morgue and handed over to Edhi personnel, said an official from the comissioner's office requesting anonymity.

Also read: To fight Covid-19, healthcare workers need responsible citizenry, capacity building and reciprocity

But often the charity brings the body to its morgue to give the last bath. According to Mohammad Bilal, incharge of the ambulances section at the foundation, who remembers getting a call recently from a hospital regarding a Covid-19 death: "I sent our ambulance with three people — a driver and two others — dressed in PPE, who waited for the hospital authorities to hand them the disinfected and plastic wrapped body of the doctor. From there, the body was taken to the Edhi morgue in Korangi where his last bath was performed." He said this applied to most Covid-19 deaths.

"Of our three morgues, right now we are using two morgues, Sohrab Goth and Korangi — where we take the bodies of people who died of corona and bathe and enshroud them," says Bilal, the foundation's 48-year-old worker, who has been associated with the charity for some 30 years.

Tasked to supervise the burials of those who have died of Covid-19, Bilal says they have trained all their ghusal staff, some 20 or so, on how to don on and doff off the PPE (including shoes) and what precautions to take during the ghusal. "I and half a dozen workers received detailed briefing from the doctor incharge of Civil Hospital's isolation ward. He made sure we understood everything and when we went back, we briefed the rest," says Bilal.

All bodies of the deceased that the Edhi Foundation picks from home are handled as corona-suspect, as people often do not tell the truth because of the fear and the stigma attached to the disease, says Bilal. "Many do not even want to come to the morgue or the graveyard and then we perform all the last rituals," he adds.

The Edhi Foundation, has, for now, kept five ambulances out of its fleet of 350 in Karachi, just for picking up bodies of those who die from Covid-19. "We disinfect and then wash the ambulance after every round," says Bilal.

The last bath

According to Bilal, if a body has to be collected from the hospital, healthcare workers there have usually disinfected the body and put it in a plastic bag themselves.

"All the tubes and everything used on every single patient are disposed observing proper protocols in light of the highly contagious nature of the pathogen. There is a specific department for that," says Dr Luxmi.

More on this: The Covid-19 emergency and prioritising public health in Pakistan

But if it is to be picked from a home, the Edhi workers spray it with a disinfectant, or if possible, wash it with bleach at the residence of the deceased; after that, they wait 30-minutes or so before covering the body in plastic and then putting in the ambulance. The body is then taken straight to the morgue where there is an area for the ghusal.

"The plastic is removed from the body, washed with water and soap, then the body is wrapped in plastic, then a white kafan (white sheet of shroud) and then again a plastic sheet and tied at the head and toe so the plastic does not slip. It is then put back in the ambulance and taken straight to the graveyard," says Bilal.

The stainless steel sheet on which the body is placed to be bathed is disinfected and washed thoroughly with detergent, as is the floor, he adds.

The body is then placed in a wooden coffin and put in the ambulance.


Once they reach the graveyard, often the coffin remains in the ambulance and the imam and other attendants, usually four or five, perform the namaz-i-janaza facing it. "The box is then carried by the attendants (usually gravediggers and two Edhi workers) and lowered into the grave," says Bilal. "We've been asked to send two more people to help carry the coffin and we are now doing that as well," he adds. Everyone who enters the graveyard has to don the PPE.

But there is no restriction on where a Covid-19 deceased can be buried as had been noted in a press statement issued by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation. The KMC had issued the statement after news reports quoting Mayor Waseem Akhtar earlier last month said that the corporation had reserved five cemeteries for Covid-19 victims and only their burial will take place in those. The five cemeteries named were Muhammad Shah graveyard in North Karachi, the Surjani graveyard, the Mawach Goth graveyard, the Korangi No.6 graveyard, and the Gulshan-i-Zia graveyard in Orangi Town.

The KMC has 41 of Karachi's estimated 200 registered graveyards under it. According to the corporation's graveyards director, Iqbal Pervez, the few bodies of Covid-19 that have been buried under his supervision have been buried wherever the relatives requested. "There is no restriction that Covid-19 bodies have to be buried in a particular graveyard," he says.

According to Pervez, graves for Covid-19 victims are bigger than the usual graves on account of the coffin. "They are eight feet long, seven feet deep, and four feet wide compared to a normal one which is seven feet long, five feet deep and three feet wide. It can take two gorkhans (gravediggers) about four to five hours to dig one up," he says, adding: "Due to the fear factor finding a gorkhan is becoming increasingly difficult and on top of that many refuse to touch the coffin, so now Edhi volunteers are doing that duty as well."

Read further: Humans of pandemic

"If the grave is ready, it doesn't take much time to pray and bury the dead," says Pervez. "There are no rose petals spread over the grave as that business is also closed," he says, admitting that it is a quiet, sombre and quick affair.

Sadly even when the family member(s) returns home, there is no one to share the grief with. "We could not send any meal to my deceased neighbour's family; I could not go and hug his wife and kid, go and do any collective dua (prayer) or share in their bereavement," says AZ. However, she says the family of the deceased has set a precedence and an example for those around them in abiding by safety regulations.

*. Person not named to protect privacy


Author Image

Zofeen T. Ebrahim is an independent journalist based in Karachi.

She tweets at @zofeen28.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (24) Closed

Apr 14, 2020 04:42pm
May Allah bless all who lost their lives and those who are still struggling and who left behind for great side effects.
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Apr 14, 2020 04:47pm
Grave situation coming very soon for Pakistan.
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Apr 14, 2020 04:58pm
Where is the time, to get rose petals?
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Apr 14, 2020 05:57pm
Super heroes .This article should be published in all languages and distribute. So people know how serious things are. Stay home and physical distances are important. Make essential worker work easy don’t go out unnecessary .
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Apr 14, 2020 06:33pm
Thanks to Feudalism and Mullahism in the country, majority of people in Pak are poor and illiterate and do not/ will not not understand this article. These people do not know how to form a line, wait for your turn, do cut the line etc, how can you expect them to obey social distancing? The reason being, the poor are treated as third class citizens in Pak, where the rich and powerful just take away everything from them including their dignity i.e. a poor maybe standing in line for hours to pay a bill and here comes a rich/feudal guy who will just cut the line pay his bill and walk away. Have you ever seen a rich and powerful guy or feudal stand in line waiting for his turn in Pak? If you don't respect and invest in your own people then that country is doomed.
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Apr 14, 2020 07:08pm
May Allah SWT bless the soul in an external peace- Ameen. Hopefully grave are marked with names of deceased.
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Saif Zulfiqar
Apr 14, 2020 08:04pm
This is due to the Coronavirus only and nothing wrong as we have to protect other humanbeings from getting sick.
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Apr 14, 2020 08:07pm
These people will be remembered and prayed for. No doubt. Corona may have killed humans but still did not humanity
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Balachandran D
Apr 14, 2020 08:25pm
The death figure by Pakistan is not correct as the deaths occurred in houses will not be taken into account.
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Hamid shafiq
Apr 14, 2020 10:02pm
very touching story
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Chris Dann
Apr 14, 2020 10:05pm
Terrible. And these mullahs wish people to die this kind of death.
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Chris Dann
Apr 14, 2020 10:06pm
@N_Saq, a good comment and true also.
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Apr 15, 2020 12:43am
It's commendable for the services they are the real heroes
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Khăn Azam
Apr 15, 2020 03:30am
@N_Saq, buy motorcycle: gold : spend luxury money on wedding: but don’t educate children: have large families: then blame the rich ! You can become rich too ! Who stopping you! Magic lies in education: quality education: skilled education: but it is a Slow & long process But fruits are life long !
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Sandeep Vadera
Apr 15, 2020 04:13am
Brave men who are doing these necessary functions when no one will readily come forward to this job. Yes they are trained but it takes will and courage to go into hospitals these days and that to handle, carry, wrap and bathe a person deceased with this virus. May god keep you safe brothers.
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Apr 15, 2020 04:34am
By looking at pictures, these good people are not protected properly, also the procedure of removing body from plastic is highly dangerous. May god save this army who are involved in burying the dead.
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Apr 15, 2020 05:21am
@Balachandran D, Are you worried about that? What figure would satisfy you?
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Truth seeker
Apr 15, 2020 05:28am
Shame to all mullahs, feudal lords and all those politicians who are misleading the illiterate people. The situation is so grave. Mullahs are misguiding the illiterate on the name of religion. Government on the other hand always support the VIP culture recent examples are of Sindh’s minister brother in law’s VIP protocol and Maria B’s. Shame to these guys who are providing such great disservice in these difficult times. Salute to all those workers and volunteers who are providing their services in these difficult times. They are our real heroes. May Allah reward them best and keep them in His protection. Ameen
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Apr 15, 2020 06:01am
Heartbreaking :(
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Apr 15, 2020 06:17am
Food for thought who loot the country and others...This may be the end...
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Abdul Salam Kalhoro
Apr 15, 2020 07:41am
The detail of corona 19 effected and death patient did not shown in media the death person identity must be shown in media.
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Apr 15, 2020 10:19am
May Allah have mercy on all of us. Ameen.
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Apr 15, 2020 03:06pm
Salute to the workers of Edhi Foundations who are doing an excellent job in this critical time.
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Syed Ahmed
Apr 15, 2020 03:57pm
Thank you for writing this very informative article. At least basics are done properly. This is very reassuring and different then what one reads in social media. Thanks again.
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