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Some BJP leaders ‘disapprove’ presence of Muslim volunteer at Vadodara crematorium

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in Vadodara, Muslim volunteers have been at the forefront of performing Covid-19 cremations in cases where families of the deceased have refused to come along or been unable to join due to quarantine.

Written by Aditi Raja | Vadodara |
Updated: April 19, 2021 7:28:43 am
COVID-19 pandemic, Covid-19 India Second Wave, indian express opinions, coronavirus cases in India, india news, indian expressSome leaders of the party had raised objections after they had spotted a Muslim volunteer at the crematorium when a section of them had reached the facility to attend the last rites of a BJP leader on April 16. (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana/Representational Image)

BJP leaders of Vadodara’s city unit have expressed their disapproval to the presence of Muslim volunteers in the Khaswadi crematorium in the city — which is overburdened with bodies since the second wave of Covid-19.

Some leaders of the party had raised objections after they had spotted a Muslim volunteer at the crematorium when a section of them had reached the facility to attend the last rites of a BJP leader on April 16.

Several BJP leaders in the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, meanwhile, disapproved of the objections raised by the party unit. Mayor Keyur Rokadia said the issue will be addressed amicably while adding that “communities must work together” during the time of pandemic.

On April 16, some BJP leaders of the party’s city unit, including city president Dr Vijay Shah, had reached the crematorium to participate in the last rites of a party leader. The leaders objected to the presence of a Muslim man, who had been preparing the pyre with the wood and cow dung cakes for the burial. Shah told the VMC to ensure that Muslims are not allowed to enter the crematorium.

“We learnt that he is a contractor supplying wood and dung cakes but he has sublet a contract or appointed more Muslim youth to work in the crematorium, which is wrong. Volunteering for good work is one thing but getting into religious rituals when you have no knowledge of it is not welcome. For Hindus, the antim sanskaar is the last of the 27 sanskaars we have. It cannot be done by someone who does not know. We have told the VMC that the person, who is given the contract for the supply of wood and cow dung could deliver it outside the crematorium. He does not need to be inside,” Shah told The Indian Express.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in Vadodara, Muslim volunteers have been at the forefront of performing Covid-19 cremations in cases where families of the deceased have refused to come along or been unable to join due to quarantine. Another BJP leader, who is also in the VMC, said, “This stand taken by the party leaders is very embarrassing. It is not right to mix religious ideologies at this time when the entire city is suffering. We cannot deny that the Muslim groups in Vadodara have worked very closely with the VMC during the last year.”

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A staff member of Khaswadi said that the day being Friday and in the month of Ramzan, the volunteer was wearing a skullcap. The undertaker at Khaswadi said, “This man has been working here tirelessly with us since the last year of the pandemic and for two decades before that… There have been at least 1,000 bodies that have been cremated in this crematorium by Muslim brothers in the last year and no one questioned them because no one was here to see them.”

When asked why the BJP was raising the issue a year later, when no other volunteers came forward to perform the last rites until the recently concluded civic body polls, Shah said, “We did not know about it… There are volunteers, who are aware of the religion and they can help with the cremations… We believe that the volunteers performing the last rites of Hindus should be Hindus. We have no other objection.”

According to VMC health department, the Muslim contractor is the only supplier of cowdung cakes to the crematoriums and is paid for his material. Medical Officer for Health, VMC, Dr Devesh Patel said, “For each body that is cremated, about 600 cowdung cakes are needed along with other material. He is paid about Rs 550 for the same and it is only for the material not for performing the cremation. He does it voluntarily. There is no formal contract either and anyone who can supply the material is welcome.”

Mayor Keyur Rokadia, who, along with Cabinet Minister and BJP MLA Yogesh Patel and Officer on Special Duty to Vadodara Vinod Rao, held a meeting with the members of the Muslim community on Sunday to thank them for their support during the pandemic and seek further help, also addressed the controversy and said that the contract of the person would not be changed. Rokadia, later told The Indian Express, “This is the time of a pandemic at its peak. In the best interest of society, communities must work together and understand each other’s sentiments. The controversy has been brought to our notice and we will address it amicably.”

On Monday, the BJP will also carry the ashes of deceased from Khaswadi that have been lying unclaimed since the outbreak of the pandemic. Shah said, “We will take the ashes to Chandod with our volunteers and perform the rites for the people whose families have not been able to make it.”

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