“Ram Naam Satya Hai,” chant the mourners in a funeral procession as they solemnly carry the mortal remains of a man through the meandering lanes of Malda in West Bengal.
At another funeral, some 2,000 kilometres away in Mumbai, another group of pallbearers carry a bier to the crematorium, again chanting “Ram Naam Satya Hai”.
Nothing unusual about the two funerals, but for the fact that the pallbearers wore skull caps and sported flowing beards–they are Muslims, and chanting the name of a Hindu God is akin to sin for them.
Binay Saha died at a ripe old age of 90 in Loyaitola in Malda district of West Bengal. His is the only Hindu family in the locality of 100 odd Muslim households.
His two sons–Kamal and Shyamal–were distraught, and also worried about how will they perform the last rites of their father during the lockdown with no Hindus around.
“Our father died of old age ailments. We were anxious about how to cremate him during the lockdown. None of our relatives would be able to come. Actually, we should not have worried. Our neighbours came forward and everything was carried out smoothly,” said a visibly moved Shyamal.
Help for him was just a door away. At the home of Saddam Sheikh.
“I was the first to know about his death on Tuesday. We are neighbours…and we did our duty as neighbours,” said Sheikh.
“No religion is greater than humanity,” said the man, his furrowed face betraying pathos and calm satisfaction at a good deed done.
“Irrespective of our faith, we stay together,” said a proud Razia Bibi, the panchayat chief.
Premchandra Buddhalal Mahavir, a resident of Gareeb Nagar locality of Bandra in Mumbai, also died during the nationwide lockdown.
After the death of his 68-year-old father, his son Mohan made frantic calls to his relatives and friends who could not come down to his home for the last rites.
“I could not contact my two elder brothers residing in Nalasopara area of neighbouring Palghar district. I informed my uncles in Rajasthan about my father’s death but they too could not step out of their house because of the lockdown,” Mohan told PTI.
Plunged in abject despair, Mohan got help from his Muslim neighbours, who not only carried on their shoulders his dead father but also helped with legal documentation.
“We knew Premchandra Mahavir quite well. In times like these we should show humanity transcending religious barriers,” said Yusuf Siddique Sheikh, a neighbour of Mahavir, apparently mindful of the tear in the country’s secular fabric. And probably thinking ‘no religion is greater than humanity’, as an obscure Saddam Sheikh of Malda put it.