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How Millions of Ordinary Indians Were Denied Dignity in Death by an Inept Government

How Millions of Ordinary Indians Were Denied Dignity in Death by an Inept Government

  • With the third wave of the pandemic staring the country in its face, the shortage of vaccines presents a very gloomy picture for India; one that might haunt many more of us for a lifetime.

It’s almost August 2021. The third wave in India seems to be on its way even before the horrible memories of the second Covid-19 wave have faded, which had consumed millions of lives in its fury and left their dear ones with irreparable losses for a lifetime. It was no less than a pralaya(m) or catastrophe that causes extensive destruction of human lives before a new age could begin from this chaos.

But this catastrophe was not a natural one. If it had been natural, it would have been an equalizer. It would probably have ensured equality to all in death; dignity in death. As people ran pillar-to-post, exasperated in search of oxygen supplies, ventilators, hospital beds, and critical medical drugs like Remdisivir, Tocilizumab, and Amphotericin, with tidbits of hope to save their loved ones, the impending doom became gradually visible. In my neighborhood, we lost a 30-year-old young man to Covid complications, followed by the death of both his parents the very next day— all of whom had to be immediately cremated by distant relatives. This catastrophe left no space, temporal or physical, for mourning.

As thousands of people died each day, mass burials and cremations became the norm. Though the Indian media presented only the tip of the iceberg, rampant acts of inhumanity and indignity were now out in the open; people dumped dead bodies into the Ganges and removed their saffron shrouds. On the one hand, the Indian government was unable to provide universal healthcare and control the spread of the virus, and on the other, it could not ensure basic dignity to the victims due to its incompetence. 

Thus, India’s government now bears the burden of not just violating Article 21 of the Indian Constitution that guarantees life and personal liberty to all persons which is a fundamental right, but also the basic human rights guaranteed to all.


It was December 2020. The so-called “peak” of Covid was long gone, and India was witnessing a downward trend in cases. For the entire duration of the first wave (which peaked in September 2020), we had been extremely cautious. Like many privileged Indians, we washed our veggies, fruits, and groceries 2-3 times, wore a mask, and carried a bottle of sanitizer everywhere we went and had unconsciously memorized nearly all of the Covid vocabulary. But December turned out to be very different for us. Both of my maternal grandparents were admitted to the hospital in the ICU in Warangal, in beds diagonal to each other, close yet far away. Both of them had contracted Covid.

My family members and I rushed to the hospital the day after we learned of the critical situation, including my uncle from the United States. Back then, hospitals in smaller cities allowed entry even into the ICU wards, and we had a chance to risk our lives to be with our loved ones in such a crucial time. We wore PPE kits, bought gloves, sanitizers, masks, and all the associated paraphernalia to keep ourselves safe at the hospital. When given a chance to choose between being with our loved ones in their last phases of life and risking our own, I think most of us would choose the latter by taking the utmost health precautions. And we did so. Though my grandpa was on a ventilator and couldn’t communicate, I was content to understand his eye gestures asking me about my wellbeing and sharing his intense pain.

India’s government now bears the burden of not just violating Article 21 of the Indian Constitution that guarantees life and personal liberty to all persons which is a fundamental right, but also the basic human rights guaranteed to all.

Ultimately, my grandma was fortunate to recover and my cousin and I spent a couple of days attending to her in the general ward. But Covid wasn’t so kind as to spare my grandpa and I lost him a couple of days later due to cardiac arrest. Watching the nurses and doctors trying to revive him was the most heartbreaking moment of my life. Until then, I always felt fortunate to have both sets of grandparents alive. But fate changes in no time. Covid continues to be a testimony to it.

Since my grandpa’s RT-PCR test was negative, we were allowed to take him to our native village and, while maintaining social distance, give his fellow villagers and relatives an opportunity to pay their last respects. As a healthcare provider, he had over the years provided low-cost healthcare to several patients, mostly coming from deprived backgrounds. But above all, he was a humble and compassionate man who everyone from the nearby villages respected and admired. We cremated him with all the necessary Hindu rituals in the village where he had started his profession, raised children, married them off, and also lived on to see great-grandchildren visit occasionally. In the end, we immersed his ashes in the Krishna river, completing the return of the body to the pancha mahabhutas (the five elements: air, water, fire, space, earth).

Throughout the process, we cried, mourned, and prayed. We did everything to ensure that he left this earthly world with the dignity that he had fostered for himself throughout his lifetime.


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Nearly 7 months have passed since my grandpa left us. I could never have fathomed that the past couple of months of the Covid second wave would compel me to make peace with the situation of losing him in the first wave. The government’s management of the second wave, or to be precise its mismanagement, fills me with a dreadful thought: If we had lost him during the second wave, we would have been unable to offer him dignity in death. This would not only have caused the violation of his human rights but would have denied us, his family members, the peaceful acceptance and closure of his death.

Unfortunately, millions of Indians have had to face this dread in real life, and my heart goes out to them and their loved ones. These avoidable and untimely deaths will not be forgotten by their kin. All through this chaos, this government spewed hatred against Muslims (Corona Jihad) while promoting Kumbh Mela, chest-thumped on people filled election rallies and masqueraded true ground data. It stooped to the level of delaying and even denying medical care for Covid and basic necessities like straw for Parkinson’s to activists like Father Stan Swamy which led to his untimely death. This government needs to be made accountable especially when the next election season comes. If not, it would be nothing but a travesty of justice for those who lost fighting the battle, not just with Covid but the war with the healthcare system and the apathetic government.

In the light of extensive criticism from the international media and the crackdown by the Supreme Court of India on the central government’s vaccine policy as “prima facie arbitrary and irrational,” the government in a desperate face-saving measure made the promise of providing free vaccination to all. This move seems too little, too late after the second wave, and promises not much hope for the third wave. Currently, only 6% of the Indian population is fully vaccinated. And India is vaccinating 4 million people/day as against the required 8-9 million people/day to meet the target of vaccination for those eligible by the end of 2021. 

Shortage of vaccines due to inept vaccine production and procurement policy and irrational exports to other countries, made the government even ration vaccines by lengthening the interval between doses of Covishield vaccine from 4-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks, against the advice of its own scientific advisors. With the third wave staring India in its face, such statistics added to the complete relaxation of restrictions on tourism and gatherings presents a very gloomy picture for India. A picture that might haunt many more of us for a lifetime.

Swathi P. is a concerned Indian citizen and volunteer with Hindus for Human Rights. She is the Chief Program Officer at an agri-business start-up that aims to transform farming into a profitable business for smallholder farmers. She studied Liberal Arts as a Young India Fellow at Ashoka University and also worked with a grassroots NGO. She is also a Caux Scholar (Asia-Plateau) and a GGI Impact Scholar. Her learnings from both successes and failures have inspired her to think of public policy as a career wherein she wishes to co-build solutions with marginalized communities, and wants to push for inclusive and sustainable development.

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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