CHENNAI: Though doctors in the frontline are fighting COVID19, the ones who die are being robbed of a dignified burial. In the third such incident in Tamil Nadu, corporation officials were forced to give up their plans to bury a 55-year-old doctor, who died of COVID 19 on Sunday, in the Kilpauk cemetery.
Late in the night, they took the body to the Velangadu burial ground that is about three kilometres away. But even as a JCB machine was involved in digging, an angry mob from the neighbourhood objected to burying the body in the crematorium and went on to vandalise the ambulance in which the doctor's body was kept.
A few officials and staff even suffered bleeding injuries in the assault. Only after the police provided protection could the body be buried, that too hurriedly and without using the JCB machine.
The deceased, a neurologist and chairman of a private hospital, was admitted at Apollo Hospitals at Greams Road on April 8, and died on Sunday at the hospital. He is suspected to have contracted the infection from a patient he was treating. His 27-year-old daughter, also a doctor, also tested postive for the virus and is undergoing treatment.
Late on Sunday night, corporation staff were preparing for the burial of the doctor at the TP Chatram burial ground in Kilpauk when close to forty residents protested and were engaged in heated arguments with the police.
“The residents blocked the road and shouted slogans that the body must not be buried there,’’ said a corporation official, adding that the mob was unmindful of social distancing rules or Section 144 and many did not cover their faces too.
After discussions failed, the officials decided not to bring the body to Kilpauk burial ground, but instead to the Velangadu burial ground on New Avadi Road 2.7 kilometres away.
Dr K Pradeep Kumar, colleague and friend of the deceased doctor, said when they started digging a grave at Velangadu burial ground, a group of people came with sticks and stones to attack them. A JCB machine was used since as per WHO guidelines, COVID-19 patients must be buried at a depth of 12 feet.
“The ambulance windshield was damaged and they started throwing stones on the body kept in the ambulance. Corporation officials, ambulance drivers and assistants were injured and bled,” said Dr Pradeep.
Assistant Executive Engineer Kalaiyarasan, Executive Engineer Senthil Kumar and the ambulance crew - Anand and Damodaran - suffered injuries in the assault.
Dr Pradeep, after telling the injured to go back to the hospital, drove the ambulance with broken panes back to the New Hope Hospital of the deceased doctor and roped in two ward boys for help.
“I made multiple calls to police officers and health department officials and with police protection, we drove the body again to the Velangadu burial ground,’’ said Dr Pradeep.
The deceased was buried with strong police protection. “I dropped sand with my hands hurriedly with tears rolling. This should not happen to anyone in future,” added Dr Pradeep. The JCB machine could not be operated since the operator had left fearing the attack.
The Chennai police has arrested 20 people so far for damaging the ambulance and creating a ruckus at Velangadu burial ground at Anna Nagar in the wee hours on Monday.
Cases have been booked under Section 188, 147, 148, 341, Tamil Nadu Private Property Prevention of Damage and Loss Act.
Earlier, the doctor was undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Vanagaram. Since his daughter also tested positive for COVID-19 on April 11, she could not participate in the funeral.
Last week in a similar incident, residents denied burial of another doctor who died of COVID-19 at the same private hospital. In another incident in Coimbatore district, villagers protested against the last rites of a government doctor who died due to dengue and typhus thinking it was a COVID-19 case.
A senior police officer told The New Indian Express that the suspects would be produced before the magistrate. He denied that some gangs are behind such incidents. “It is because of misinformation that the people agitate and oppose the funeral of Covid-19 victims,” he said.