COVID-19 Widows In India Face A Sexist Bureaucracy

Women who have found themselves in charge of a family after the sudden deaths of family members discover rules, regulations and laws making mockery of their situation.

Three Indian women walk on a deserted road, Sep 27

Local women walk on a deserted road, Sep 27

Tarushi Aswani

NEW DELHI "He died months ago but the government reminds us of our loss every day," says Dipanwita Das, whose husband died on April 25, 2021, at the height of India's second wave of COVID-19.

Das admitted her husband to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital as his vitals dipped and temperature rose. Her husband, Partho, passed away soon after, beginning an ordeal for the widow that she had entirely not foreseen.

First, the hospital misspelled her husband's name on official documentation, delaying the procurement of a death certificate. To rectify this mistake, hospital authorities asked Dipanwita to file an application. They also asked her to update the "registered contact" with her own number, as the hospital had entered the number of a hospital attendant in that space.This process took weeks.

Amidst rising COVID-19 numbers, Dipanwita had to visit the hospital three to four times after her husband's death, just to complete formalities so that she could get a death certificate.

Government relief is slow to come

In July, the death certificate finally arrived. Then began Dipanwita's efforts at municipal offices, to cancel an initial request which had the incorrect spelling that the hospital had entered, and put in a fresh application for death certificate validation so that she could be allowed to apply for COVID-19 compensation.

"You need money to get compensation out of the government and keep running from office to office. I only have enough money to buy rations for two people," she says. The couple's son is 17 years old.

On July 6, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had launched schemes to compensate families who had lost their family members to the pandemic. Dipanwita says, and this reporter confirmed, that the link to the portal to register for compensation is broken. This has left Dipanwita with no option but to depend on her meagre savings and donations from acquaintances just to travel to municipal offices and hospitals. She says, "I don't know how long we can survive until their help reaches us."

Dipanwita's struggles took place as the Supreme Court heard petitions on compensation for families of COVID-19 victims, which culminated in an affidavit from the Union government on Rs 50,000 (about $676.80) assured ex gratia to such families, to paid from the State Disaster Relief Funds.

The government also says the guidelines will offer opportunity for review and rectification of any certificate of death issued by hospitals or government authority prior to the guidelines coming into force on September 3, 2021. Whether this will come to the aid of Dipanwita's situation is the question.

Women waiting to receive a dose of COVISHIELD vaccine against COVID-19 in Kolkata, India

Women waiting to receive a dose of COVISHIELD vaccine against COVID-19 in Kolkata, India

Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto/ZUMA

"The fact that we have to prove that he died is humiliating" 

Like Dipanwita, 27-year-old Benazir Hassan has struggled with the volume of paperwork involved since her husband Kaleem Hassan died after testing positive for COVID-19. Benazir is left to fill out a pile of documents, for which she often has to enlist the help of relatives and acquaintances who can read and write.

"The fact that we have to prove that he died is humiliating," she says. The couple have three children and Benazir is pregnant with a fourth child.

The process of applying for compensation is coordinated by the area's district magistrate. It requires the family to provide a proof of residence of the deceased and dependents, a death certificate, proof of COVID-19 death, documents establishing relationship between the deceased and applicant and bank account details of an applicant.

The death must be certified as a COVID-19 mortality or death within one month of testing COVID positive and verified by the health department as such. Shuffling the papers, Benazir says her application for compensation was rejected due to a lack of documents to certify her husband's death as a "COVID-19 death."

Without Kaleem's "proof of COVID-19 death" certificate, Benazir will not be able to avail herself of any of the financial assistance packages launched for the benefit of COVID-19 victims' families. Her two sons, Rihan and Rizwan, have not eaten well since April 26, 2021 — the day Kaleen died.

"He died of breathlessness in my lap. I have seen how COVID-19 finished him," says Benazir, noting the acute oxygen crunch at the time.

"I'm raising my kids on donations. I cannot work since I'm pregnant and now even our compensation application has been rejected," she says. Like Dipanwita, Benazir has also lost money in the process of going from office to office.

"It's also impossible to get work done in government offices if you're not assisted by a man," she says. Benazir recalls being told that she wouldn't "understand" the processing of her application.

Overwhelming legal and gender hurdles

Dipanwita's son, Sagar, studies in DAV Public School, Jasola Vihar. When Dipanwita pleaded with the school to waive fees — as the government had mandated for children who lost their income-earning family member to COVID-19 — the principal said he would only consider waiving off 50%.

Dipanwita's husband had been laid off from his job last year, so the family had already been in financial difficulty.

"I have not been contacted by government authorities, and yet they claim to be helping COVID-19 widows," says Dipanwita.

In the eastern city of Cuttack, Biraj Swain, a global development professional, has also dealt with a similar problem.

Her nephew, who studies at Kendriya Vidyalaya, has not been exempted from school fees either, even though his father, the only member of the family making money, passed away to COVID-19. Biraj says schools have paid no heed to government announcements.

The Odisha government had announced a reduction in the tuition fees in all aided and unaided private schools for the 2020-2021 academic session in wake of the prevailing pandemic situation. Biraj and her sister-in-law Itishree have been undertaking massive amounts of paperwork since her brother, Biplab, passed away on May 4, 2021. This is because in their woman-headed household, the Hindu Succession Act has posed a problem.

While the law recognizes Biplab's wife and child as the legal heir, it does not allow an unmarried sister-in-law to be recognized as legal heir, even though Itishree has signed an affidavit for Biraj to be made legal heir.

"Can't secular laws be applied? Do we need to always need to go through the Hindu personal law? Why can't we be led through constitutional law?" Biraj asks. Biraj's question is one to ponder amidst constant talk of reform and removal of the Muslim personal law.

Along with the morbidity of post-death paperwork, Biraj says, women also have to deal with the misogyny of bureaucracy and Hindu laws. She alleges that 16 months into the pandemic, the death registration certificate has no separate column for COVID-19 death. This, she feels, not only helps the government deny COVID-19 deaths, but also deprives the dead of the dignity of being counted.
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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]


This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

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• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.


South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.



In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.


Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️


"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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