Death in times of coronavirus: Ashes of dead piling up at cremation grounds in Chandigarh
Just a day after a 21-day all-India lockdown was announced on March 24 to control the Covid-19 outbreak, Subhash Kumar (name changed to protect identity) collapsed and died at home after complaining of chest pain to his wife.
His children, a son and daughter, were in Maharashtra and could not attend Kumar’s last rites due to the curfew and lockdown.
Even though a few neighbours and relatives helped, Kumar’s wife said she had never felt so alone in her life.
In just a few months the Covid-19 outbreak has changed life as we knew it, including how people grieve for their loved ones.
The Sector 25 cremation ground, usually crowded with mourners, is now virtually empty. People say they have come for a final glimpse of their friends and loved ones as they have not visited their homes because of social distancing.
Gaurav Sharma, present at the last rites of a relative, says, “He had a heart attack. We rushed him to the hospital but the police stopped the car for a few minutes for verification. Perhaps if those crucial moments were not lost, maybe he would have been alive today.”
Collection of ashes for immersion in rivers, a very important part of Hindu rituals, is difficult “With the entire country under lockdown many people are unable to go to to Haridwar or Rishikesh for phool prawah or immersion of ashes in the Ganges,” says Ashwani Kumar, a 45-year-old priest at the cremation ground.
Many Sikh families too are unable to go to Kiratpur Sahib for the final rituals of loved ones.
Advisories have been issued for the cremation ground too.
“We don’t allow more than 20 people here. Mourners have to sanitise themselves and cover their faces with masks,” says 59-year-old Vijay Kumar, also a priest.
More people are opting for the eco friendly CNG crematorium. “Before the lockdown just one or two bodies were received in a day, but now that’s increased to four or five bodies,” he adds.
Mahendra Kumar, 60, a pastor, says he has never seen such times in 31 years of service.
“Keeping in mind the gravity of the situation we have kept three to four coffins in the Sector 18 Church. Burials will still take place even if the situation becomes worse and multiple deaths happen. Perhaps we may bury multiple bodies in one grave.”
Referring to how bodies of coronavirus patients are not handed over to loved ones as a precautionary measure, Mujahid Ul Islam, 33, says, “Men who stay indoors will be blessed too. Our faith permits us to grieve without last rites in such unprecedented circumstances.”