- Ms Varma started the facility after she lost her close friend to COVID
- Ms Varma is an author by profession
- Ms Varma has helped over 1,500 people in Lucknow
New Delhi: When India was in the grip of the deadly second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all hospitals and health care services across the country were stretched. People were struggling to arrange oxygen cylinders, medicines, hospital beds, and even access crematorium services. One such person was Lucknow’s, Versha Varma.
During the second wave, Ms Varma’s close friend was severely ill with COVID-19 and passed away in April. After her friend’s death, Ms Varma faced a huge challenge to find an ambulance to take her friend’s body for cremation.
Ms Varma tells NDTV that she believes that most people faced similar problems during the second wave. She said,
I think the second wave did not spare anyone, every house has been impacted. When I lost my friend in Lucknow’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in April, I could not arrange an ambulance for her body as they were asking for too much money due to shortage.
Ms Varma said that she didn’t feel that she or anybody should be paying Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 for a distance of just 2-3 km from the Hospital to the nearest crematorium. That experience pushed her to take the mantle into her own hands and strive to help people caught in similar situations. She added,
After cremating my friend, I thought those who are dying are all our people. So, next day I hired a car and parked it at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital for people to use it for the same purpose.
That was when she realised that there are many people who needed the service, and just one van was not enough.
So we increased the number of vans. At the moment we have four vans that are covering all the big hospitals of Lucknow, Ms Varma said.
An author by profession, since then she has been tirelessly ferrying deceased COVID-19 patients and conducting their last rites for free.
There was a day when I was in my PPE kit, and I took a body to the cremation ground and I saw more than 100 bodies being cremated. The sight overwhelmed me, and I could not control my tears. That day I made myself stronger and decided that this is not the time to cry. This is the time to make sure people don’t suffer at least because of money or ambulance shortage.
When even family members of deceased COVID patients are fearful of performing the last rites of the dead, Ms Varma has been risking her life and making countless trips between hospitals and crematoriums to ensure dignity for the dead.
We get inspiration from Madam, if one lady can do so much, so should we. Our families also support us in this because of her dedication, a volunteer who is working with Ms Varma tells NDTV.
Ms Varma has helped more than 1,500 people in Lucknow till date.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.