‘I’m tired,’ says 43-year-old Assam man who has cremated 400 Covid-19 victims

Updated on Sep 09, 2020 11:49 PM IST

In past few weeks, Assam has been witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases as well as deaths. The state had recorded 130,823 positive cases till Tuesday and 378 deaths. Kamrup Metropolitan district, which includes Guwahati, is the worst affected with 500-600 new cases daily.

Ramananda Sarkar at the Ulubari crematorium in Guwahati.(UTPAL PARASHAR/HT PHOTO.)
Ramananda Sarkar at the Ulubari crematorium in Guwahati.(UTPAL PARASHAR/HT PHOTO.)
Hindustan Times, Guwahati | By

Carrying out cremations is not an easy job. More so, if it’s of people who have died due to Covid-19. Forty-three year-old Ramananda Sarkar would know. In the past five months, he’s helped with the last rites of nearly 400 Covid-19 deaths in Guwahati, the biggest city of Assam.

“I’ve been conducting last rites of Covid-19 patients since April and till Tuesday have done nearly 400 cremations till date. Earlier, it used to be 1-2 cases in a day, but since the past one month we have 10-12 cremations daily,” said Sarkar, who works at the Ulubari crematorium in Guwahati.

In past few weeks, Assam has been witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases as well as deaths. The state had recorded 130,823 positive cases till Tuesday and 378 deaths. Kamrup Metropolitan district, which includes Guwahati, is the worst affected with 500-600 new cases daily.

According to district officials, over 400 cremations have been conducted till date at the Ulubari crematorium, which is handling the bulk of the load while a few cases are shifted to Bhootnath crematorium, the other designated place for cremating bodies of Covid-19 patients. Seventy two more patients have been buried at the Athgaon and Islampur cemeteries in the city.

“These days I and my two assistants start conducting last rites daily at 3 pm and by the time we finish it’s nearly 2 am or 3 am. I am getting tired and it seems the flow of bodies won’t stop and there’s no rest for us. Earlier, I used to be afraid to handle bodies of Covid-19 patients, not anymore,” said Sarkar.

A resident of Jagiroad in Morigaon district of central Assam, Sarkar had come to Guwahati two years ago and was working at the Bhootnath crematorium before his services were hired by the district administration and he was shifted to Ulubari.

These days he stays at a hotel at government expense. He has been tested several times for Covid-19, but not detected positive yet.

According to health officials, though the official death count due to Covid-19 is 378, the number of patients who tested positive for the disease but died due to other co-morbidities is over 500 as the death audit board (DAB) doesn’t count them or those who test positive posthumously as Covid-19 deaths.

In the past few days, there have been rumours that due to increase in fatalities, bodies of Covid-19 patients have been lying in morgues for days due to lack of enough manpower to dispose them.

“The Kamrup Metro administration is also facing a tough time cremating the Covid-19 deaths. Resources are stretched to a limit and the team is working overtime,” Dr Navanil Barua, head of neurosurgery at Guwahati’s GNRC Hospital wrote on Facebook on September 6.

“When my brother in law died of Covid-19, he was in serial number 17 waiting for cremation. As deaths mount, waiting time shall also mount as Covid-19 deaths are not handed over to relatives. Also, Guwahati might run out of morgue space too,” he added.

The district administration, however, stated that the problem was due to laxity on the part of private hospitals intimating the DAB about Covid-19 deaths.

“We are not having any issues in disposing bodies of patients who die at Guwahati Medical College Hospital, the state’s biggest government hospital,” said Chinmoy Nath, additional deputy commissioner, Kamrup Metropolitan.

“But there’s delay in performing last rites of those who expire at private hospitals as they inform the DAB about the deaths sometimes after 2-3 days. We can easily perform last rites of 10-15 patients daily at the designated places and there’s enough manpower also available now,” he added.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Utpal is a Senior Assistant Editor based in Guwahati. He covers seven states of North-East India and heads the editorial team for the region. He was previously based in Kathmandu, Dehradun and Delhi with Hindustan Times.

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