Covid crisis: Queuing for cremation in the capital

Delhi's funeral grounds are struggling to keep pace as the death toll mounts.

ByAkanksha Kumar
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As the catastrophic second wave of the coronavirus pandemic rips through Delhi and the death toll mounts, the capital's crematoria are struggling to conduct funerals.

Newslaundry visited two crematoria in West Delhi where the waiting time for cremation averages over five hours.

Watch.

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After this report was published, one of our readers wrote in with her own experience of queuing up to cremate her mother in Delhi.

I cremated my mother. There’s no dignity left, even in death

By Mansi Radhika

I lost my mother to Covid on April 16, 2021. She’d a cardiac arrest and could not be revived. My father died three and a half years ago.

I, a single child, am an orphan now.

This isn’t about me, however.

I am sharing this horrid tale because we must never forget what we are being put through. And because the reality on the ground is far worse than even the media that is not yet compromised manages to show.

When the doctor gave me the news of my mother’s demise, I said, “Thank you for treating her. I am sure you did your best.” He earnestly and shakily looked into my eyes through his PPE overall and replied, “Thank you for understanding us. You are a brave girl.”

When I went to collect my mother’s body from the morgue, I only saw her face from afar to identify her. Then they zipped her up in a body bag. The morgue was brimming with bodies, all tied up, zipped and piling continuously.

In my 31 years, I have been to crematoria in Delhi seven-eight times. This time was the most tormenting by far.

Imagine this. Having watched your loved one die gasping for breath, you take their body for cremation to the ghat. There, you have to lift the body wearing a PPE kit so as not to touch their skin. Then you have to stand in queues, to pay cremation charges, to buy ghee and camphor, to pick up wood, to hold a spot for the pyre. And all this time, if you are alone, your loved one’s body lies unattended.

Once you have found a spot on the ground, you have to make the pyre – arrange the wood, lift the body onto it, and cover it with more wood and kindling. And you might have to do all this yourself as well because crematoria are overburdened and there isn’t nearly enough staff.

Then, you light the pyre. You cannot stand around for long watching them go because more bodies are waiting in line. You don’t get to say a dignified goodbye even.

The next day, when you go to collect the ashes, there is again a queue. Once it’s your turn, you get down to sift the bones from the ashes and the unburnt wood, wash them, tie them up, and go to the other ghat to drown them. There, too, you may have to stand in a queue.

I know because I had to do all this, and not long after giving birth. I felt the warmth of the freshly burnt bones on my hands and smelled them. I visited two crematoriums, one to burn my mother’s body and the other to pour her ashes into water.

I saw grown men sobbing, their cries loud and clear, their bodies shaking and collapsing to the ground with logs of wood in their hands, overcome by their loss and by the death and despair hanging over the city like a dark ominous cloud. I saw two men come with three bodies from their family. The bodies were wrapped up in sheets, I’m not sure if they even knew who they were cremating.

I belong to the privileged class of the country. My mother had a hospital bed, a doctor, nurses, medicines, an ICU facility. She got oxygen when she needed, even a ventilator. And we could cremate her when so many of our fellow citizens are forced to float the bodies of their loved ones in rivers or bury them in floodplains because they can’t afford the costs.

The dead are gone. Some of the living will perish as well the longer this catastrophe is allowed to go unchecked by those tasked with tackling it. Then, there are those who might yet survive, those left to walk in crematoria and burial grounds, carrying the heaviest of burdens. But they are dying too in a way. They will never be the same again. They are scarred for life. Save them! At least, save them!

I refuse to want to know if saving them is the responsibility of the centre or the states. Just save them! Save us!

Mansi Radhika is a foreign exchange banker.

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