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Ludhiana: Pyres burn late into the evening as volunteers work overtime to cremate Covid dead

As Sharma spoke to The Indian Express on Thursday, Ludhiana hospitals had reported over 1,800 deaths out of which around 300 were from outside the district.

A relative of a person who died of Covid-19 cries at a crematorium. (File Photo)

At Ludhiana’s Dholewal cremation ground, bodies pile up faster than workers can cremate them. By 9 pm, 20 dead have been consigned to the flames, 17 out of them Covid positive.

Pankaj Sharma, the priest here, says, “We started doing (Covid) cremations at this ground when no one else was doing it. So far, we have cremated over 660 Covid bodies here. There were days in the first wave as well when cremations would go on till midnight. I feel terrible as that time has returned again.”

As Sharma spoke to The Indian Express on Thursday, Ludhiana hospitals had reported over 1,800 deaths out of which around 300 were from outside the district.

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The last body to be cremated here on Thursday was that of a 70-year-old male Covid patient. First Covid cremation done here was of ACP Anil Kohli in April last year.

“All the three LPG furnaces and permanent stands were also being used till late night in the cremation ground and it was hard for me to watch this sight. Had not imagined that this day will come yet again… We saw bad days in September as well,” says Ranjodh Singh, chairman of Ramgarhia Educational Council, which is managing the cremation ground.

“This is the only cremation ground where maximum Covid patients of Ludhiana have been cremated,” adds Pankaj.

The crematorium has a team of 6 people who help in carrying out the final rites.

Apart from priest Pankaj Sharma and granthi Paramjit Singh, the other four include Rakesh Kumar Babbu, Monu, Sanjeev Kumar and Amarjit Singh Saini.

Saini (46), who works as a senior manager with a media group, does all his meetings from within the premises of cremation ground while working as a volunteer here from morning till evening since April last year.

“My parents never wanted me to work as a volunteer, but finally they had to give in when they say that I was determined. After going home, I sanitise myself completely and take a bath before meeting my wife, kids and other family members,” he says.

Babbu (48), who otherwise was into transport booking service, now stays busy doing volunteer service at the cremation ground most of the times, while Sanjeev Kumar (42), a vet, sanitises those who come to attend the cremation. Monu (32), who used to grease truck tyres, is also a volunteer at the cremation ground.

After Sanjeev sanitises everyone, the other three volunteers arrange the pyre, bring the body to the spot as normally relatives are reluctant, though a few of them do come wearing PPE kits, says Sharma.

“The team has been risking their lives for the past one year, but it is a sewa and they provide it on their own despite the fact that they have families back home,” says Ranjodh Singh. Babbu says, “We wear PPE kits most of the time in the day as whenever a body comes, we have to wear it till the time all rituals are not completed. It is too hot these days, but we are used to it now.”

Ludhiana Municipal Corporation had recently honoured 10 traffic marshals who are working as volunteers at cremation grounds to cremate Covid bodies and had announced monthly salary on DC rate for them, which will be around Rs 10,000 per month. However, the team of volunteers at Dholewal cremation ground has been working tirelessly without any recognition. Councillor Mamta Ashu said, “We had got the list of those volunteers and have no idea that another team also exists. According to us, we have honoured everyone.”

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