Tushar Kanti Baidya
Imagine yourself dealing with dead bodies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, on a volunteer basis, at that. How long will you be able to do that? Maybe you cannot imagine yourself in this situation even. However, that very act was undertaken by one of the courageous transgender women, Sanjivani, from Bangladesh. When family members of a deseased person left the body, out of fear, Sanjivani and her team took the lead on furnishing the last ritual for the departed soul.
Because of her identity, Sanjivani has received adverse treatment from people for most of her life. But now Sanjivani is getting respect, admiration and love from people for the work that she has been doing since May last year.
Sanjivani is a transgender woman. She has been in charge of burying the bodies of those who died as a result of COVID-19 since May last year, or burying the dead according to religious rites. If there are relatives of the deceased, Sanjivani coordinates all aspects of the burial, including talking to relatives Team members take part in bathing, burial and other activities.
Sanjivani was a dance teacher at the Lamay School in Bandarban, run by the Quantum Foundation, she is now working in Dhaka from the Quantum Foundation’s camp in the capital’s neighbourhood called Segunbagicha. Sanjivani visited the hospital with her team members after receiving information, through the Department of Health, about a patient’s death as a result of COVID-19. At the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, relatives of the deceased were afraid to approach the corpse. So, Sanjivani and her team members had to do the entire formalities of the last farewell of the body, all entirely on a voluntary basis.
Sanjivani says that the situation has changed a lot compared to last year. At present, the number of relatives who do not want to come near the body, has decreased and there is less panic among relatives now.
Sanjivani says that she has learned what to follow the formalities of the last farewell of the deceased according to four religions, namely Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Depending on the religious faith of the deceased, she takes the body to the graveyard or the crematorium. Sanjivani continues that there is no telling when someone dies and her and her team will be called upon, so, in that sense, she has no leisure: “You have to be prepared all the time. The work has to be done in compliance with other hygiene rules, including safe clothing PPEs,” she says.
Although Sanjivani considers herself a woman, she is currently working as a team leader for the men’s team and assisting in burying the bodies of men. She says there is a specific dress code for those who work in the group, and adds that she does not experience any negative comments from the relatives of the deceased, or from other people while doing this. There are no obstacles to the work. The Quantum Foundation is paying close attention to the well-being of its volunteers.
Sanjivani lived with her family until she completed her higher secondary school. During that time, people mistreated her, and told her family members bad things about Sanjivani, whenever they got a chance. People used to harass her in various ways. At one point, she was forced to leave her house. She has been out of her home for nearly eight years now. Only her sisters, and a few family members are connecting with her occasionally. Returning home and meeting family members is still a dream for her.
Sanjivani considers the opportunity to do the job of burying the corpses a blessing. She thanks everyone concerned for doing the job for a year, despite being a transgender woman. She continues, “I have the number of the bodies I have been able to help in the last farewells. But to me, the work is greater than the numbers. I want to say goodbye to everyone with a touch of peace and dignity.”
With her bachelor and masters in political science, Sanjivani is looking for employment opportunities, where she will be able to impact policymaking. She is also keen to do a PhD in political science or gender studies.