THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It's only a fortnight since a municipal ward councilor in Kottayam came under fire for joining a sit-in of local residents blocking the funeral of a COVID-19 victim at the public crematorium. Many viewed it as a blot on the hailed 'Kerala Model' in dealing with the pandemic.
On Friday evening, M Pradeep, chairman of the Attingal municipality too faced a similar situation when the body of a 68-year-old COVID victim, Judy Ignatius hailing from Anchuthengu, was brought to the public crematorium in his town.
Local residents blocked the vehicle raising the same fear that Kottayam residents aired - that the smoke from the pyre would infect them.
But Pradeep's reply virtually shocked them. "It is a scientifically proven fact that the smoke from the blaze does not transmit the virus. Since you are still doubtful I will stand near the pyre until it burns out." The startled protestors did not object further.
Problems didn't end there for the chairman. The crematorium staff refused to join and fled the scene. "The chairman didn't mind it. He got a PPE kit from his car trunk, wore it, and started setting up the pyre. The volunteers who brought the body helped him. In half an hour he lit the pyre and waited there until it burnt to ashes. He left the place in the night," said a corporation staff who witnessed it.
Pradeep, however, said the protest from local residents was quite natural and it was his duty to convince them. "They had two reasons. One was that the woman's native place was the distant Anchuthengu and why was it brought here. Since Anchuthengu is a coastal village a burial as per Covid-19 protocol, ie ten feet down, is not possible there. The pit would fill with water when it is already two or three feet deep," he said.
Second, he said, was their fear of the smoke. "But they seemed to be convinced when I volunteered to stand there," he said.
"Those who brought the body were Christians who did not know about setting up a funeral pyre. That is why I did it myself. Anyway, we gave her a dignified farewell," he adds.
After the burial, the chairman announced that the crematorium workers have been sacked with immediate effect.
According to Pradeep, the coastal population is hard hit by the pandemic. "They saved thousands of lives on the mainland during the floods. Now, it is time four us to repay that kindness," he said.
Now Pradeep is under quarantine since his name figured in the contact list of Anchuthengu panchayat president who was tested positive on Saturday.
The Attingal municipality ruled by the CPM is among the best local bodies in the state where the pandemic is under control. The first case was reported in August and only six cases have been reported so far.