The final rites of a COVID-19 patient were considerably delayed after locals protested and resorted to stone pelting and violence to stop the government officials from cremating him, police said on Wednesday. Seventy-one people have been arrested for the violence.
According to a complaint filed by the Chief Officer of the Khambhat Nagarpalika, Jitendra Dabhi, they had reached the Hariom Nagar cremation ground in Vidyanagar town of Anand district around 9 pm on Tuesday to cremate a 63-year-old patient who had succumbed to the virus at the Shri Krishna hospital in Karamsad.
Officials from the district administration said that there was already a long delay in performing the final rites after no member from his family came forward to claim the body. The 63-year-old man who had co-morbid conditions of hypertension died on the night of May 2, officials said.
“He was unmarried and did not have an immediate family. Most of his relatives are also under institutional quarantine. The hospital had approached his relatives residing in Anand to claim the body. But
none came forward. The administration waited for two days before finally deciding to perform the final rites themselves,” said Ashish Kumar, District Development Officer of Anand.
When they were about to perform the final rites, a group of around 20 men from nearby residential areas gathered and protested against the cremation citing that it could lead to virus transmission, the police said.
When the officials tried to explain to the locals that due procedures were being followed and that there was nothing to be scared of, the mob got agitated and began thrashing the ambulance driver with sticks and damaged the vehicle, Dabhi in his complaint stated.
Soon after the officials informed the police, they rushed to the spot to contain the situation. But the matter spiraled out of hand as another group of over 50 residents armed with stones and sticks arrived at the spot and attacked the officials.
Three police personnel also sustained injuries. “To control the situation we lobbed one round of tear gas shell and also baton charged the crowd. Several of them were detained from the spot and the final rites were performed at the site thereafter,” said T R Gadhvi, PSI, Vidyanagar police station.
Superintendent of Police, Anand, Ajit Rajian said, “We have arrested 71 people so far and their medical examinations are underway. These people stay in the vicinity but not adjacent to the crematorium. We have also found out that the same group of people and the main instigators were also involved earlier when they had protested against the cremation of a flu patient stating that the crematorium should only be used for cremation of people from nearby areas. There was no FIR registered, but we are still investigating.”
In two separate FIRs, over 70 people were identified and booked under IPC sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapon), 186 (Obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 332 (Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 504 (intentional insults), 506 (2) (Punishment for criminal intimidation) and 307 (attempt to murder) and under sections of the Disaster Management Act.
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