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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Delhi: Graveyards turning families away, burying the dead is a new challenge

A senior Waqf Board official said, “Nobody can refuse to bury the dead in this graveyard, even if they belong to Tabhligi Jamaat. If grave diggers are not helping, it is their prerogative as this is voluntary work. A bulldozer is used to dig the graves.”

Written by Anand Mohan J | New Delhi | Published: April 12, 2020 3:03:47 am
Coronavirus cases, coronavirus deaths, Delhi Graveyards, delhi news, indian express news At the graveyard at Delhi Gate on Saturday. (Photo: Amit Mehra)

There’s no tombstone and no customary namaz. His son cannot touch the sand where his father — a 62-year-old from Sadar Bazar who died of coronavirus — is buried. The scene played out on Friday at the Jadid Qabristan near Delhi Gate, which has been set aside to bury coronavirus victims.

The 62-year-old’s family was turned away from two graveyards before they found this one. Even here, grave diggers refused to dig or stand near the body. Healthcare workers from Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, who came equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE), kept watch from a distance.

Eventually, his family spent Rs 1,500 each on two PPE kits, and conducted the last rites. As the man’s body was thrown into the 15-feet deep grave — there were no ropes to lower it — his son broke down. At the end, the family members took off their PPEs and dumped those into the grave, to be buried along with the man.

“Nobody gave us support. We spent hours roaming around Mangolpuri and Bara Hindu Rao areas, visiting local graveyards,” his son said.

The Delhi Waqf Board had designated a graveyard for coronavirus victims at Millennium Park but since bulldozers could not enter due to a narrow entrance, burials are being conducted at Jadid Qabristan, whose caretaker manages both graveyards.

The bodies of four Tablighi Jamaat members, however, were refused even here. The family members were told to head to a graveyard in Dwarka’s Sector 14.

A senior Waqf Board official said, “Nobody can refuse to bury the dead in this graveyard, even if they belong to Tabhligi Jamaat. If grave diggers are not helping, it is their prerogative as this is voluntary work. A bulldozer is used to dig the graves.”

Sitting outside his house nestled between graves, caretaker Maskoor Alam (70) said he is left with seven workers as several fled when the first coronavirus burial took place. So far, seven who died from the virus have been buried here. “There is no question of helping the families bury them; we don’t want to get the virus. No bodies of Tablighi Jamaat members will be allowed; they come in large numbers and may create a problem for us,” said Alam.

Alam said they were not given PPE kits, only a standard mask, gloves, a bottle of hand sanitiser and soap to carry out the burials. As per guidelines issued by AIIMS, it is mandatory for those handling bodies of COVID-19 victims to wear PPE kits, and not to remove the body from the body bag or carry out embalming. The guidelines also advise cremation.

“We don’t even touch hospital documents. What if they are not sanitised?” said graveyard supervisor Mohammad Shahmeem.

The graveyard is located on a 50-acre plot and the dead are buried in small niches at the back. The gate to this area is locked, and opened only when hospital authorities inform them of a burial.

It usually takes two hours to manually dig a grave but a bulldozer does it in 20 minutes. Sher Singh, the machine’s driver, said he is scared of getting out: “I have dug some graves in the past. This is the first time I dug a grave for a COVID-19 victim.”

Contractors who lease the bulldozer charge Rs 6,000 from each family. An additional Rs 2,000 is taken by Qabristan Committee members as burial charges. Mohd Hafeez, a committee member, said “We have decided to waive the Rs 2,000 fee, it will be borne by the committee. We will help bury these people.”

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