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Putting humanity above religion, a Muslim woman in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur city performed the last rites of a Covid-19 infected Hindu man whose close relatives could not come for the funeral as they had tested positive for coronavirus.

The humanitarian act by Ayesha Raut, who works as a senior manager at Aster Adhar Hospital in Kolhapur, has come in the midst of a gloomy atmosphere caused by the Covid-19 pandemic when family members and relatives are shying away from ensuring decent last rites for their near and dear ones.

On May 9, she performed the last rites of one Sudhakar Vedak (81), who died after battling Covid-19 for a week in the Aster Adhar Hospital, as per Hindu tradition.

Speaking to PTI, Raut said, As part of the annual distribution drive during the holy month of Ramzan, my family had decided to donate PPE kits to people working in cemeteries and crematoriums in Kolhapur city.

“When I was at the Panchganga crematorium to distribute PPE kits, I received a call from Dr Harshala Vedak, whose father Sudhakar Vedak had died on Sunday (May 9).

Dr Harshala Vedak asked Raut if she could facilitate the last rites of her father at the Panchganga crematorium as all her family members, including herself, were infected with coronavirus. She and Raut know each other professionally.

Dr Harshala Vedak works as a resident medical officer at state-run Chhatrapati Pramila Raje Hospital in the city, around 375km from Mumbai.

I was a bit upset as there was no one from Sudhakar Vedak’s side to even attend the funeral. So I called Dr Vedak and sought her permission to perform her father’s last rites.

“With her nod, I wore PPE kit and performed the last rites as per Hindu rituals, Raut said.

Dr Harshala Vedak hailed Raut’s noble and kind gesture. “When a relative dies, there is grief in the family and due to Covid-19 restrictions, people feel the pain more because they can not even attend the funeral or perform last rites,” Dr Harshala Vedak said.

Sudhakar Vedak’s condition deteriorated on Friday and he died on Sunday, but none from his family could visit the hospital because all of them, including Dr Harshala Vedak, had tested positive for coronavirus and were in home quarantine.

My father has three daughters and I am the eldest one. Three years back, when my mother lost her battle to cancer, I had performed her last rites in Mumbai.

“Our parents were always proud of their daughters and we never faced any discrimination while growing up. Hence, it was not very difficult for me to accept that a woman is going to perform the last rites on my father, Dr Harshala Vedak said.

She said Raut’s religion was not an issue.

“There was no issue at all with Ayesha, being a Muslim, performing the last rites. In fact, we all are full of gratitude for what she did.

“I know Ayesha professionally for the last few years. I saw her initiative as a good example being set before the society, Dr Harshala Vedak said.

Asked about her state of mind when she decided to perform the last rites, Raut said, I felt very sad that no relative was present and Sudhakar Vedaks body was kept there along with other bodies.

“There was a long queue of dead bodies at the crematorium and most of them were put on funeral pyre by crematorium workers. It was a very depressing scene.”

Raut said she did not think about religion when she lit the funeral pyre.

“I could at least offer some solace to the family by performing the rites. I did not think for a second that I am a Muslim and I am performing the last rites of a Hindu, Raut said.

Asked how people perceived her act, she said, This is Kolhapur which has a long history of movements related to social reforms. I have not faced any disapproval of my act… everyone appreciated my gesture.

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