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‘In India, people leave dead bodies at the door without telling us’

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Hindu monks and funeral staff will forever remember the horror as the number of Covid-19 cases increased exponentially. They don’t want to have to go through this situation again.
“Everything is chaotic. Bodies wrapped in white shrouds were brought in mass. The siren of the ambulance sounded from morning to night. The only thing we saw were the burning pyrems,” recalls Hemant Kumar Sharma, a monk at the Seemapuri crematorium.

Dressed in white, Mr. Kumar sat in the courtyard of the crematorium with other monks. Of the 26 pyre, only one is in operation. Another body is on its way there. “It’s comfortable now. Every 3-4 days, a body with Covid-19 will come here. We have time to breathe, eat and sleep,” he said The Hindu . To this day, he still cannot imagine what he had to go through two months ago. Unforgettable days Walking around the crematorium, Mr. Kumar pointed to an empty lot. Here, the staff of the crematorium had to erect 9 more cremation pylons. On another site, 5 pyre were built. Now, this area is just a black coal-stained void, with a few bricks left. Mr. Kumar pointed to the land that used to be the cremation pyre of Covid-19 victims. Photo: The Hindu. Taking a step further, Mr. Kumar pointed to another field. “This used to be a children’s cemetery. However, when the number of deaths peaked, we had to turn this into a crematorium and build 72 more cremation pylons. We even had to break down a wall to move the wood in,” he recalls. For about 10 days in April, more than 20 staff at the crematorium, including monks, sanitation workers and helpers, worked 24 hours a day. They even have to cremate their bodies in the middle of the night, which is against Hindu beliefs. “People leave dead bodies at the door without telling us. In addition, many families asked us to send back the video of the cremation ceremony,” Mr. Kumar recalled. “My mother used to make me go home and sleep for a few hours. I chanted sutras even in my sleep, according to family accounts,” he recalls. “Now I can sleep well.” Mr. Kumar has a 6-month-old baby girl. He did not dare to hold his child for the past month and a half due to fear of contracting Covid-19. At home, he ate and slept in a separate corner, trying to stay away from family members. “We didn’t wear protective gear because it was too hot. Can’t breathe… We just use masks and gloves,” he said. Now, the situation is less tense. When India’s vaccination campaign kicked off, all crematorium staff were vaccinated. This is a priority object due to the need to handle the body of a person who died due to Covid-19. “We once cremated a 6-month-old boy, who died from Covid-19, while the father of the baby wept bitterly. I will never forget this scene,” Mr. Kumar said. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused pain to hundreds of thousands of Indian families. Photo: BBC. Return to normal state At Lok Nayak Hospital, two large tents used to be used as waiting rooms for patients in front of the emergency ward. To date, they have been removed. No more patients on oxygen outside the hospital. There is no longer a long line of ambulances with the sound of the patient’s family crying and begging the hospital to accept it. Mr. Abhay, a community volunteer, reminisces about the shifts at the peak of the epidemic. “I don’t want to remember,” he said. At the Punjabi Bagh crematorium, the trees used to die because new pyrements were erected next to them. Now the green sprout is back. “I got used to this scene from last year, so I wasn’t affected much,” said monk Pankaj Sharma. However, for inexperienced monks and staff, seeing a mass of bodies leaves a psychological impact. “There were days when we didn’t have time to eat,” said Deepanshu, a 23-year-old employee. “A working day starts at 6:30. We help the victim’s family. Many were crying, scared, and didn’t know where to go or what to do. We only get to rest after 9-10pm.” Contrary to Seemapuri crematorium staff, Deepanshu and colleagues have not been vaccinated against Covid-19. “When the vaccination campaign started, government officials called us to get information. They asked us to go to a nearby hospital. However, when they arrived at the hospital, they said we were not on the list,” one staff member told The Hindu. During the peak of the epidemic, Indian crematoriums operated day and night. Photo: Reuters. “We are near the bodies of Covid-19 and many Covid-19 patients. We deserve an injection,” Deepanshu asserted. Currently, only 1-2 bodies infected with Covid-19 are brought to this crematorium every day. Most of the pyre are not working. “The situation here is not as bad as other crematoriums. People still have to wait, but with a much shorter time,” said monk Pankaj Sharma.