It is 4 am on Wednesday morning. At Ludhiana’s only LPG crematorium, a priest, Pankaj Sharma, is busy reciting mantras before cremation of a 68-year-old woman from Tajganj who died due to coronavirus infection. A few hours later at 10 am, a 50-year-old Covid patient from Durga Nagar is brought here for her last rites. And then at 3 pm, a 73-year-old Covid-19 victim is cremated. “Three more are lined up. Cremations will continue here till midnight,” says priest Pankaj Sharma as he hurries to cope with the job at hand.
Since April 18, Ramgarhia cremation ground in Ludhiana has seen cremations of 85 coronavirus patients (Official figures, however put Covid fatalities in Ludhiana at 79). The crematorium has only one LPG chamber, which was set up four years back, but had remained unused till the pandemic outbreak. By Monday, another LPG chamber is likely to become operational here.
Till recently, Ramgarhia cremation ground was the only one in the city where Covid-19 patients were being cremated as other cremation grounds were refusing to handle bodies of Covid patients. However, Ludhiana DC has now ordered that no cremation ground can deny performing last rites of a Covid patient.
“First Covid cremation here was of ACP Anil Kohli and later patients from outside Ludhiana were also cremated here. We remain busy round-the-clock. We are pained to see how relatives don’t even come inside the ground even after wearing PPE kits,” said Pankaj Sharma.
He added: “In these times, we tell the relatives to take ashes within 3 hours of death. However, they don’t even touch the ashes, what to talk of cremating bodies of their family members. We pick ashes and give them to family.”
So far, ashes of seven persons, who died last month, have not been claimed by their family members.
Ranjodh Singh, part of the cremation ground’s management, said, “We wait for family members for a certain time period and later priests themselves do the ritual of managing the ashes. Four families have been approached a number of times, but they never came back. It is really sad.”
Pankaj added,”A woman’s son refused to enter cremation ground to even stand at a distance wearing a PPE kit, while in yet another case, grandchildren did not come out of their car to cremate the body of their grandfather. I went outside and recited mantras, made them touch a few offerings, before their grandfather was cremated.”
Ludhiana Civil Surgeon Dr Rajesh Bagga said, “It is a myth among people that ashes of Covid patients can be infectious. If they are not touching ashes, it is really sad. When the body is burnt, nothing is left behind. They can pick the ashes themselves rather than asking priests to do it for them.”
The cremations of Sikh Covid-19 victims here are performed by Gurdev Singh, granthi of gurdwara within this cremation ground. Four volunteers wear PPE kits every time a body comes for cremation and help carry out the cremation. “On Wednesday, there were 6 cremations, so they wore PPE kits 6 times. We all have got no time to eat our food, what to talk of maintaining immunity or having sound sleep,” said priest Sharma. We want that Punjab Government should get our medical and life insurance done as we are at high risk. “
Meanwhile, the rising death toll of Covid patients has become a cause of concern for health authorities in the district.
“The high death rate in Ludhiana is a cause of concern. We are worried and are analysing the reasons,” said Dr Rajesh Bagga, Civil Surgeon, Ludhiana. While Ludhiana has reported 79 Covid deaths till Wednesday, 38 patients from outside Ludhiana have also died in city hospitals.
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