Their hearts are numb with the pain and suffering they are witness to day in and day out, especially for the past year as the world witnesses the dance of death because of coronavirus pandemic. For the eleven friends who started an NGO “Aakhri Umeed Welfare Society" in Jalandhar back in 2018, lives changed last year when they saw a family abandoning and refusing to cremate their loved one who had died of corona in Ludhiana. The incident shook them to the core, they started “sanskaar sewa" and since then they have cremated 530 abandoned corona dead and helped umpteen others in getting their life back on track. They have come to be known as “11 rupae wali canteen" or the “Canteen where everything is available for 11 rupees."
But the worst nightmare for them now is the people still taking corona lightly and carelessly coming out in the markets throwing caution to the wind. “Ask the families who lost their children in their 20s, the family of 26-year-old six-month pregnant woman we cremated or family which lost four members in 20 days if corona is real or not," says Jatinder Singh, founder of the NGO. “This is the scariest thing."
“From children refusing to cremate their parents to parents unable to come to cremate their 27-year-old son, we have seen it all in this pandemic. Families of the ones we could reach out to have now joined us in the fight against corona. People donate belongings of the ones they lost and anything they do not need anymore, to us and we put it up for grabs for only Rs 11 at our store. We also organize ‘langar sewa’ to feed the needy as well as give away electronic gadgets or anything we get to the needy."
A meal, clothing, books or electronics or dignity to the dead they have been tirelessly serving humanity at the time of such great distress. “The NGO came up in 2018 on the principle of Dasvandh in Sikhism, which teaches us to give away ten per cent of our earning to charity. From the money pooled in by 11 members of the NGO, all businessmen, we helped the poor with books, medicine, admissions, treatment and food. A year back the Ludhiana incident made rethink and we decided to do cremation sewa," says Jatinder.
“We brought the dead from far off places as relatives approached us. Some were in need while some could not muster the courage and sat in their AC cars as we cremated the dead. Some relatives watched over video call as no immediate family was left in city. We brought the dead from Amritsar or Ludhiana and even had to perform the ‘phull chugna’ or collecting the ashes."
“October last year we set up an office and started ‘langar sewa’ for many who lost jobs, businesses crashed or wanted clothes and even gadgets like washing machines etc but all for Rs 11. We need PPE kits as these are burnt after every cremation..We have friends from Canada sending us oxygen concentrators. Sangat is our strength… It’s only by coming together that we can win this war."
Through their Basti Sheikh road office, Facebook, social media handle or through administration people approach them for help.
This year when an ambulance driver asked for Rs 3,500 for hardly two-kilometre distance and took Rs 2,000 after much persuasion that we decided to buy a car and convert it into a fully functional ambulance, which we will launch on 26 May 2021. And yes it will be all for Rs 11 be it any faraway place."