Tula Ram’s only regret is not seeing his son in his last moments. His son Maninder Kumar Gautam worked as a staffer at one of the district courts in the national capital and was one among those who died during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Six months on, families of court staffers who fell victims to the deadly virus are finding it difficult to cope with the loss.
After returning from work on the evening of April 15 this year, Gautam, who worked as an Ahlmad or keeper of court records at the Rohini Courts, complained of fever. He didn’t turn up for work the next day, and the day after that, he worried if he had been infected with the COVID-19 virus.
“On April 20, he complained of breathing trouble. We have a family doctor who told us that getting oxygen at home would not be possible and we should take him to the hospital,” remembered Ram.
At the time, procuring a medical oxygen cylinder or COVID-19 related medicines was a near impossible task. The Delhi High Court in April this year had initiated a suo motu hearing taking stock of the overall situation in the wake of the devastating second wave. At one of its hearings, the High Court remarked that the cylinder business was in a complete mess and that the Delhi government had to put its house in order.
Gautam was eventually admitted in a nearby hospital, where on the third day of his admission, his RT-PCR test returned positive. Ram shared,
“On April 25, my older son met him. He seemed fine but complained of body pain. On April 26, we got a call from the hospital saying that the patient was collapsing. My other son was anyway getting ready to visit his brother. So he rushed and found him unconscious, on the ventilator. They tried to revive him, but nothing happened.”
Gautam, 44, left behind his wife, two minor children and his aged parents.
Some of Gautam’s friends from work, who also fell sick but recovered, visited the family.
“They were nice people. They came to see us,” said Ram.
The family has applied for the compensation, and is yet to receive it. Ram, a pensioner, said the family is still grieving the loss.
“What do I say? We couldn’t have imagined something like that. We are yet to believe he is gone. We weren’t even able to seem him when it happened,” said Ram, with his voice shaking.
A two-fold loss
For Mohan Swaroop, coping with his loss is twice has hard. Both his son and daughter-in-law were staffers in the Delhi district courts. While son Hardev Singh worked in the mediation cell at the Patiala House Courts, the daughter-in-law D Fiona worked as a personal assistant to a judge at the Saket Courts in Delhi.
Swaroop recalled how within a fortnight of the passing of his daughter-in-law, his son also succumbed to the virus.
“She was taken to the hospital on April 16, but declared dead on arrival. My son, who had worked in Saket Courts earlier, and worked in Patiala House Courts at the time of his death, passed away on April 29,” the father said.
Singh was admitted in VIMHANS (Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health, Neuro & Allied Sciences) for three days before he died due to COVID-19.
The couple was in their 30s.
Swaroop, struggling to hold back his tears, said,
“We can’t imagine a time like that.”
The family had received only some of Singh's dues from the Court, but is yet to receive any compensation from the government.
“There was some compensation for corona victims. We submitted the reports of my son and daughter-in-law at Tis Hazari Court, which is the headquarters of all district courts. We have not got a penny in the form of compensation from the government. We got something from the court,” Swaroop said.
The father, who retired from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, is proud of the fact that Singh, in his career spanning a decadem bagged three promotions and was on his way to achieve another.
“Both of them were gold. My son had no flaw. It’s just me and my wife left in the house. Whatever money of his I receive, I am not going to keep it. I am looking at a place. We want to build a temple,” said Swaroop, and after a pause added, “Kam Se Kam Unki Yaad Toh Rahe.” (If nothing else, their memories will last).
A perfect son, husband and father
Ashwani Kumar Sharma was particular about his fitness and went to the gym regularly. But when he got infected with COVID-19, his health deteriorated quickly.
“He died within 10 days of getting sick. He just left us,” recalled his elder son Aditya, who recently cleared first year of his engineering.
Sharma, 45, worked as a reader in Delhi’s Karkardooma Courts. He is survived by his wife and two sons. He suffered from a fever on April 12, and tested positive the next day. He quarantined at home initially, but his condition started to worsen a few days later, at which point he required medical oxygen.
“He was very fit but when he got sick, his oxygen levels started to dip. He had difficulty in speaking and complained of breathlessness. We wanted to put him in a hospital so we took him there on 18th April,” remembered his wife Rekha Rani.
He was admitted in the Intensive Care Unit on the next day of his admission. Despite being in the hospital and unable to speak, Sharma checked on his family through messages.
“I was not able to meet him. He was not able to speak and would enquire about us though messages from the hospital. But thereafter his condition deteriorated,” Rani said.
Sharma’s younger son had also turned COVID-19 positive, making the father particularly anxious about his son.
“It was my elder son’s exam the next day of his father’s death. The younger one is Class 7. He had also turned positive. My husband was very worried about his younger son. He loved his children way too much. I have seen fathers love their children, but there is a limit. His love knew no bounds for his children,” said Rani.
As Sharma's condition worsened, the family struggled to find Remdesivir. When they did, they were told that he had been administered with it.
“On April 22, he suffered a heart attack followed by another one at around 7 pm. We lost him at around 10 pm. His friends and colleagues from court helped us,” said Rani as she broke down.
And the shock of Sharma’s passing was tough on his ailing father whom he would motivate to keep going.
“His father passed away on October 27 within six months of his son’s death, unable to come to terms to losing his son,” Rani said.
After Sharma’s death, the family has been struggling to manage their finances. Rani’s brother lends his support to the family, but losing their father has left a permanent void for the children. The family was compensated with ₹50,000 from the Delhi government.
For the family, Sharma will remain a perfect son, husband and father.
Struggling to make ends meet
Ramesh Patel worked as a driver for the Principal District Judge at Saket Court till his death. He had a fever for a couple of days in April, and on a particular day, he told his family that he wanted some rest after experiencing some body pain.
When his condition did not improve, his 30-year-old son Sanjay doubted as to whether his father was infected.
“We wondered if it was COVID-19. He said he wanted to rest. At night he took medicine and went off to sleep. This was either April 22nd or 23rd, when the pandemic was at its peak,” said Sanjay.
With his father showing no improvement, Sanjay suggested that he take a Rapid-Antigen Test.
By then, the entire family except Sanjay had a fever.
“I was working from home and rarely stepped out,” he said.
To ascertain why Patel was not getting better, a RT-PCR test was done, which returned positive. With no beds available at that time, the family was forced to take online medical consultation.
Patel was advised to take a CT Scan, which revealed that the infection had spread. His oxygen levels were also constantly dropping owing to his declining health.
“Medicines were scarce and were being sold in black. I managed to get a an oxygen cylinder. We were really scared for him by then,” shared Sanjay.
Patel was subsequently rushed to a hospital in Dwarka, but the family was told he was critical and couldn’t be treated. He was somehow put in the hospital, but had to be rushed to a better facility in neighbouring Karnal, Haryana.
“I found a hospital in Karnal with better facilities and took him there at night on 28 or 29th. The ambulance cost ₹30,000. The hospital also charged ₹30,000 a night. I purchased a Remdesivir injection for ₹75,000. He was even administered plasma,” said Sanjay.
On the next morning, the hospital expressed its inability to treat him, following which Sanjay took him to a hospital in Panipat where Patel was on a ventilator.
“We were told he would improve but on the night of May 5, he passed away,” revealed his son.
While the family grappled with Patel’s sickness, striving hard to save his life, Sanjay lost his marketing job.
“I was initially put on unpaid leave, but times were such that the company had to shut. I had borrowed money ₹3.5-4 lakh for his treatment,” recollected Sanjay.
The family is not from Delhi but stayed on, as Patel was in service and was given a place to live. After Patel’s death, Sanjay applied for a job with the government on compensatory grounds.
“I haven’t received any response,” said Sanjay.
Patel’s wife has not been keeping well ever since his death.
Sanjay, an MBA graduate, said that the family had received ₹50,000 compensation from the Delhi government, which is not enough to sustain a family of four.
“One of my sisters is of marriageable age. Some of my friends have been helping me financially, but hopefully I will get a job to improve our situation,” he said.
Sanjay argued that the government went door-to-door seeking votes, but when it came to offering a job, that too, on a compensatory ground, one had to go through a complicated online process.
“I am educated, but I am sure there are others who don’t know how to apply online. Can’t the government facilitate aid sooner?” Sanjay enquired.
The son stressed that Patel died on the job, and not in an accident.
“At least that should be considered so that the family becomes stable. How could I forget my father? Whatever we have is because of him,” he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which peaked earlier this year, shattered many families including those of court staff and judicial members all over the country. Families who lost an earning member to the deadly virus are in need of support to not only cope with the grief, but also financial constraints brought upon them.