Humanity and harmony in the time of Covid-19

On April 19, Kailash Banik, a 60-year-old Hindu man, died with coronavirus-like symptoms in Narayanganj district, near the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Due to infection fears and the social stigma related to Covid-19, no one came forward to perform the last rites for the victim, leaving the family in a helpless condition. Nioti Rani Banik, his daughter, made a phone call to Maqsoodul Alam Khondaker alias Khorshed, a Muslim and a councilor of the Narayanganj City Corporation (NCC) for help. Popularly known as Khorshed Bhai (brother), he arrived with his 15-member Team Khorshed and performed every funeral rite for the Hindu man including the cremation. To date, Team Khorshed has buried 105 Covid-19 victims, mostly Muslims and 15 Hindus.

“I was sad to see people dying of Covid-19 but there was nobody to perform the final rites for them. As a human being, I thought I must help the distressed families. My family and relatives discouraged me, but I ignored them. My team uses proper protection to arrange everything,” Khorshed, 49, elected councilor four-times, told UCA News. Bangladesh recorded first three Covid-19 cases on March 8 and since then Narayanganj and Gazipur, both industrial districts, as well as Dhaka and port city Chittagong became the virus hot spots with high numbers of infection and deaths.  Team Khorshed has been providing free masks, sanitizers, food, oxygen cylinders and ambulances to anyone in distress during the pandemic. To extend their services, another 70-member volunteer team has also been formed. At the beginning, Khorshed funded all his efforts from his own pocket, and by now he has been receiving donations from wealthy individuals and organizations. Khorshed’s humanity has been recognized and he has been hailed as a national hero, featuring in national media. The efforts, however, took toll on Khorshed and his family. He and his wife tested positive for Covid-19 and both recovered after treatment. “My religion teaches that my death has been fixed on the day I was born, so there is no reason to live in fear of death. I have tried to do some good to people, and I believe Allah has rewarded me by helping me recover from Covid-19,” said Khorshed, a father of three. “Coronavirus is so deadly, and fear runs high in people as the number of cases continues to rise in Bangladesh. I believe our efforts will help diminish this fear,” he added. Like Khorshed, several charitable organizations in Dhaka, adjacent areas and Chittagong have been carrying out similar charities. Al-Manahil Foundation, an Islamic charity in Chittagong, buried 250 victims of Covid-19 including Hindus and Christians. At the end of June, volunteers from the group collected from a hospital the body of Mary Stella Roy, a Catholic woman from Our Lady of Holy Rosary Cathedral who died from Covid-19. They bathed the body with water and disinfectant and brought it to the church. She was buried in the church graveyard after brief Christian burial rites. The charity is currently in the process of starting a 70-bed Covid-19 hospital in Chittagong. “When Covid-19 struck Chittagong, Al-Manahil decided to stand by the affected people. We are glad and grateful that people from various walks of life including the government has supported and appreciated our efforts,” Maolana Farid Uddin, chief executive of the group, told UCA News. “We believe that not just organizations but also individuals can stand beside people when humanity is in distress by defying religious, ethnic and class divides. With cooperation and love, we can establish a beautiful society, country and world,” the cleric added. Maqsoodul Alam Khondaker alias Khorshed (blue shirt), a Muslim politician from Narayanganj district, carries the body of a Covid-19 victim for burial on July 15. Khorshed and his team have buried 105 victims of Covid-19 including 15 Hindus so far. (Photo supplied) A charity for everything In 2013, Kishor Kumar Das, a Hindu computer scientist, businessman and philanthropist started Bidyanondo (Learn for Fun), a charity to provide free education and food to underprivileged children. The charity gained fame by introducing daily rich and nutritious meals for children called Ek Takar Ahar (Food for One Taka). One taka is 0.01 US cents. As Covid-19 struck Bangladesh, the volunteers started donating free masks and sanitizers to needy people, personnel protective equipment to doctors and health workers and sprayed bus terminals and railways stations.  They also started collecting donations from wealthy people to offer a range of aid including food (cooked meals), cash handouts, livelihood means and medical assistance to needy people including transgenders. By now, Bidyanondo has become the largest charity in Bangladesh that reach millions of poor and needy people including those living in remote hilly areas, forested and flood-ravaged territories. “Our founder is a Hindu and most volunteers are Muslims. Our charity is for all, because we love people no matter which religion they belong to,” Salman Khan, a director of Bidaynondo in Dhaka, told UCA News.    Their efforts have garnered overwhelming positive response at home and from abroad, creating a steady line of donations to continue their works. The charity has been forced to form 90 volunteer groups to oversee charitable works and collaborated with Bangladesh military, navy and border guards to distribute aid to poor people. During the Islamic month of Ramadan, the group distributed sehri (pre-fasting meal) and iftar (fast-breaking meal) to thousands of people. For upcoming Eid-ul-Adha, the group is collecting donations to provide jakat (Islamic donations) to buy sacrificial animals to supply meat to poor people. Recently, it has set-up 100-bed Covid-19 hospital jointly with Bangladesh police in Chittagong city. Church joins and hails charity Oblate Bishop Bejoy D’Cruze of Sylhet diocese said Covid-19 has brought out the best of humanity and harmony people in Bangladesh for many, if not all. “The Church has collaborated with Catholic charity Caritas to reach out to poor people with food, cash, and other support without considering their religion, ethnicity and class. I highly appreciate those people and groups who defied all the odds to support people when there was none to help,” Bishop D’Cruze, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Christian Unity and Inter-religious Dialogue, told UCA News. All of about 10 Christians who succumbed to Covid-19 were offered proper Christian burials, he said.  The prelate, however, lamented that Covid-19 also has made drastic, negative impacts on people. “When people die, no one comes in fear of infection. It seems the fear of death has triumphed over humanity. This is really disappointing,” Bishop D’Cruze added. Bangladesh has recorded 193,590 confirmed cases and 2,457 deaths from Covid-19, and 105,023 people have recovered as of July 16, the government data shows.

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