Family tells me to quit but I need that Rs 200 to survive: Story of a burial ground worker from Chennai

Burial ground workers wish to get monetary benefits and better allowances, either daily or monthly.

Published: 30th May 2021 05:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th May 2021 09:33 AM   |  A+A-

Volunteers of NGO Helping Hands conduct a burial in Bengaluru

Representational image (Photo| Shriram BN, EPS)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: “In March, two of my friends working at the burial ground tested positive for Covid-19. One of them died, and his family wasn’t given any financial aid,” says R Kumar (24), who works for a daily wage at a Corporation burial ground in Vyasarpadi of North Chennai.

Just like doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers, burial ground staff are overwhelmed. Almost all of them have been burying bodies of Covid-19 victims, either at the Corporation burial ground or at private Muslim and Christian cemeteries, for a minimum wage.

“Before the pandemic, the family of the deceased used to give us Rs 200-300 per head after the funeral. But now, because of Covid-19, we don’t get that money as even the family members often don’t come for the funeral,” says Kumar, adding that he gets Rs 100 per day for digging pits.

“Three-to-four of us dig a pit, which takes two or three hours. We dig it 10-12 feet deep, which is much deeper than usual, since the deceased have Covid-19. At times, we have even dug five or six pits a day, and got paid hardly Rs 200,” Kumar explains.

Another worker, who digs pits at a burial ground near Kasimedu, spoke to TNIE on condition of anonymity, saying that sometimes, the bodies of Covid victims don’t come wrapped as per the protocol. “Bodies from Stanley GH have been brought in violation of the protocol. Even the family members don’t come for the funeral, and it’s only us who are at risk,” the worker complains.

He adds that when the family members come to perform the last rights, they often don’t even wear masks. “And to make things worse, we don’t get any life security or monetary benefits. Our families are very poor. My parents have told me to stop working here, but it need this Rs 200 daily to survive,” he says.

May has been a particularly busy month for burial ground workers, as the number of bodies received shot up to about 500. “It’s very hard to find space for burials. We have even ended up burning bodies of Covid-19 victims in the crematorium,” says a crematorium worker in Royapuram.

“Last June, during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, we received two-to-five bodies a day. Now, we get 10-15 bodies,” says Munian, a worker at the Royapuram Corporation burial ground. He adds that bodies are brought from Stanley Government Hospital, Rajiv Gandhi Government Hospital, and the Omandurar Government Hospital.

Burial ground workers wish to get monetary benefits and better allowances, either daily or monthly. “We need a fixed salary, at least as long as we are burying Covid patients. We have never had to work so much. We can’t just do this as social service,” Munian asserts.


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