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In Punjab, virus fear haunts kin of dead as they refuse to claim bodies

April 08, 2020 06:02 AM


In Punjab, virus fear haunts kin of dead as they refuse to claim bodies
Anil Sharma

Amritsar : Around 3.30 am on Monday, a 65-year-old retired senior official of Amritsar municipal corporation died from the coronavirus at a private hospital here.

His body was kept in a mortuary for several hours and the family members were informed, but they did not come forward to claim it. When his last rites were performed at Baba Shaheedan cremation ground in the presence of sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Vikas Hira and naib tehsildar Archana and two police officials on Tuesday morning, it was a lonely last journey.

While his wife has been in the isolation ward of Guru Nanak Dev Hospital after she tested positive, no one from the family, including his daughter who is studying medicine and was found negative, came for the cremation due to the fear of coronavirus.

Hira said the family was informed about the man’s death and protection kits were also sent for attending the cremation even after they had refused to collect the body, but there was no response from them.

The SDM said the daughter also declined to attend the cremation ceremony after her paternal uncle (father’s brother) and other relatives showed reluctance. “We arranged everything, including a granthi to perform antim ardas (last prayer),” he said. The final rites were performed by four MC employees who were made to wear protection gear.

The former official had first tested negative at the Amritsar government medical college and hospital, but was later found Covid-19 positive at the private hospital a day before his death. The samples taken by the health officials after his death also confirmed the infection.

However, the man’s elder brother blamed the non-availability of protection kits for the absence of family members. “The administration sent protection gear for only my niece. How could we allow her to go for the cremation alone?” he claimed. The district official denied the charge, saying they sent two protection kits to the family and told to give their requirement if needed more.

This is not the first instance where the dead have been abandoned by their family members who are giving their solemn duty to perform the traditional rituals to honour the dead a go by due to the fear of contracting the infection. On Monday, the Ludhiana district administration arranged for the cremation of a 69-year-old woman after her family refused to claim her body. The family members did reach the cremation ground but kept sitting in their car outside. However, the son and daughter-in-law of the woman collected her ashes and immersed these in a canal in Ludhiana on Tuesday.

Last week, a group of residents of Verka village here had refused to allow the cremation of Padma Shri awardee Nirmal Singh, a former ‘hazoori ragi’ at the Golden Temple, who died on April 2 after testing positive. Also, the number of mourners has dropped to barely 6-7 people at most cremation ceremonies irrespective of whether the deceased had the virus.

However, health officials say there is no chance of transmission of coronavirus from cremation of Covid-19 patients as due precautions are taken. Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, spokesperson of the health department for Covid-19, said the state government has issued detailed guidelines laying down the procedure for dead body management. “The body is fully sealed in an impermeable body bag before being removed from the isolation area. Guidelines allow religious rituals such as reading from holy books or scriptures, sprinkling holy water and other last rites that do not required touching the body,” he said.

Dr Rajinder Arora, SMO of Amritsar civil hospital, also said people should not feel insecure while cremating the bodies of their relatives.

“Ash does not pose any risk and can be collected to perform the last rites. However, large gathering should be avoided at the cremation grounds to maintain social distancing,” he said.

(With inputs from HTC Ludhiana

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