After lonely death, lonelier cremation for AIDS patient

On July 29, a 26-year-old man died a lonely death at Sewri’s TB Hospital. Since none of his relatives or friends turned up to claim his body to conduct the final rites, it lay at the hospital’s mortuary for a month. 

Solitary mourner: Kishore Bhatt of Sadgata Foundation collected the body of the deceased from the hospital and then carried out his last rites at Worli crematorium. Pic/Jay Mungekar

He was cremated yesterday and the only person present at the funeral was a city-based businessman Kishore Bhatt, who has been performing the last rites for unclaimed bodies for the last four decades, other than this reporter and MiD DAY’s photographer.

The reason for the dismal turnout -- the young man succumbed to HIV virus . Admitted to the hospital by a friend on May 3, he succumbed to the disease two months later. His body remained unclaimed as the police waited for his relatives or friends to come forward and claim the body.

Stigma prevails
“This is not the first time I have seen an HIV positive patient being abandoned by friends and family. Such incidents occur twice or thrice in civil hospitals almost every month,” said Bhatt, who was called by Sewri police station officials to cremate the body.

The youth was brought to the hospital by an acquaintance Mohammed Shoufi who gave his name as Raja Shankar Gaikwad while admitting the patient to the hospital. “When a HIV positive patient is admitted to the hospital, relatives tend to visit him/her only initially, but once the patient’s condition starts deteriorating, they vanish. When the hospital staff tries to contact them, they discover that wrong contact details are registered with the hospital because of the stigma attached to the disease,” added Bhatt. Sources at the hospital said that the deceased patient used to not have his medicines regularly, which probably resulted in his untimely death.

Bhatt collected the body in the afternoon and the last rites were performed in Worli crematorium.

Tracing the friend
After acquiring address details from the hospital register, MiD DAY visited the deceased’s locality -- Grand Road in Mumbai Central -- to inquire about his background and relatives. After we traced Mohammed, he disclosed that he did not visit the deceased after he was admitted in the hospital. “He arrived in the city eight years ago and used to reside on the streets around Kubharwada for the last few years, performing menial jobs for a living. A few months ago, however, I noticed that his health was deteriorating and got him admitted to the hospital. Though I received a call from the hospital in July that he had passed away, I was unable to collect his body as I was out of town,” said Mohammed.

Asked why he used a different name at the hospital, he replied that his friends call him Raja. Mohammed works at a urinal in Grand Road. He said that he was unaware of the deceased’s native place or if his relatives knew of his death. “Doctors had informed me that he had contracted HIV after which he also diagnosed with tuberculosis,” he added.

Meanwhile, Bhatt, who has conducted the last rites of more than 3,000 unclaimed bodies in the last four decades thorough his non-profit organisation Sadgati Foundation, said that in several cases, relatives of an HIV positive patient are even afraid of touching the the dead body, or associating with it.

“A few months ago, with the help of the local police I was able to trace the relatives of a deceased HIV patient, but after meeting them in their house, they denied they were related to the deceased in anyway and refused to claim the body,” recalled Bhatt.

Common misconception
Dr Om Srivastav, director of the department of infectious diseases in Jaslok Hospital, said, “Most people see HIV as the biggest death sentence. However, with treatment the patients can lead a fairly normal life if there is a proper intake of medicines.”

He added that the second most common misconception is that a person who has contracted HIV or TB will die much faster, but with timely treatment, it is a responsive and controllable disease and such patients can lead productive lifestyles despite the affliction.”  

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