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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Funerals in the time of COVID-19: Families asked to stay away, workers in masks and gloves

Most staff at cemeteries and cremation grounds are of advanced years, making them vulnerable to coronavirus. Still, they say, the hardest thing about their job right now is asking people to not attend the last rites of their loved ones.

Written by Somya Lakhani , Anand Mohan J | New Delhi | Published: April 10, 2020 12:40:08 am
coronavirus, coronavirus lockdown, coronavirus delhi updates, funeral coronavirus lockdown, delhi news, indian express “We have seen people break down and hug each other at funerals, it’s what brings comfort. Now, they can’t do that.” (Express file photo: Abhinav Saha)

A man who attended his father’s last rites alone, a cemetery caretaker who has to convince families not to attend funerals, an 80-year-old whose body couldn’t be taken to his ancestral village in Kanpur — the lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way the capital mourns its dead.

On Thursday, the Delhi Wakf Board designated the graveyard near the Millennium Park on Ring Road for victims of COVID-19, citing difficulties in performing the last rites of those succumbing to the virus.

Dharamveer (32), a priest at the Lodhi Road electric crematorium, said, “I have been here for 15 years and have never seen such a time. Barely 8-10 people are coming with at a time. In one case, only the son of a man came. Bahut bura laga dekh kar ki aise samay mein woh ladka akela khada tha, akela ro raha tha.”

He also said that the staff, at least 30 of them, wear masks and gloves, and advise relatives to stand a metre away during the cremation. “We have seen people break down and hug each other at cremation grounds, it’s what brings comfort. Now, they can’t do that. It’s heartbreaking,” he said.

Meanwhile, at the Nigambodh Ghat cremation ground, priest Rajender Sharma (50) said that half the staff was above the age of 60 years and has been asked not report to work. “We are taking all precautions,” said Sharma.

He said that the grounds are also being sanitised daily, and that among the first people to die in the city, a woman, was cremated here. He said, “It was done in the safest manner by the health department.”

Penzy Morgan, the caretaker of Indian Christian Cemetery in Paharganj, has been making some calls this past week. Two funerals have taken place here in the last two weeks, and Morgan had to tell the families of the deceased to not attend. “They were very sad over the phone when I told them not to come for the funeral. We allowed around three-four family members,” he said.

In a bid to take precautions, the four gardeners who live inside the premises are staying indoors, with face masks, hand sanitisers and enough ration. “We’ve also asked the three drivers to stay at home,” said Morgan.

At a kabristan in Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, 70-year-old Abbas, the caretaker, has been sitting idly for days. “I am old, so I have been told to stay indoors because this disease will infect me quicker than the young. Before this outbreak, over 100 people would come for one person’s burial. Now, less than 15 are allowed. Everyone who comes wears masks,” he said.

Similarly, Haji Kallu, the caretaker of the Hauz Rani Kabristan, has been asked to stay indoors ever since the lockdown was announced.

There are no workers employed at the cemetery as the villagers usually help with the funeral. Now, Kallu has employed four people for the task.

“We have thousands of people who attend the funerals here. This village is more than 800 years old. We have issued warnings already that in case of a funeral, family members will not attend. This is the hardest thing I had to do in my life,” Kallu said.

At a Noida hospital, an 80-year-old man, who originally hailed from UP’s Kanpur, died last month but his body couldn’t be taken to his ancestral village for the last rites. “His daughter lives in Noida, so the family waited for the son to arrive from their home in UP. The other daughter couldn’t make it to her father’s last rites and only five-eight people attended the cremation, which is a pity because he was a very social man. Many people wanted to come but couldn’t because of the disease and the lockdown,” said a person known to the family.

Likewise, in an East Delhi neighbourhood, when an elderly man passed away last week, neighbours wanted to show up to pay respects. “Eventually, it was decided that it was not safe and that we should make up for it once things improve. Consoling your friends who have lost their parents is the most obvious thing. This disease has snatched away the most humane thing to do,” said a resident.

At a Christian cemetery in Burari, the caretaker, Dominic Julius, has been busy convincing the local police to allow family members to visit his cemetery. There have been around seven funerals in the past week at this cemetery, which houses around 3,400 graveyards, out of which half of them have filled up. “The police have thankfully been cooperative. Some families expressed their doubts over coming to the funerals but some phone calls to the police have sorted out the matter,” said Dominic.

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