The nationwide lockdown to contain COVID-19 has added to the woes of those who have lost their loved ones. Ashes have been piling up at cremation grounds across Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana as bereaved families cannot immerse them in the Ganges at Haridwar or Rishikesh as per Hindu rituals or at Kiratpur Sahib according to Sikh rituals.
Talking to this correspondent, 59-year-old Vijay Kumar, a priest who is also in charge of the cremation ground in Sector 25 of Chandigarh, says, "Collection of ashes for immersion in rivers is a very important part of Hindu rituals. Due to the lockdown, people who are cremating their dead are not taking back their ashes which are lying in the lockers here. Thus now we have a problem at hand on where to keep them."
Vijay went on to say, "There are 150 lockers where the ashes can be kept and all of them are full. We then got another 36 lockers but they are also now full. Around two dozen families have tied the ashes to trees in the cremation ground. Thus ashes from a little more than 200 cremations are lying here.’’
"Yesterday two families got passes from the administration and left for Haridwar to immerse the ashes of their loved ones. Daily on an average around ten cremations are done. Earlier, the cremation ground was crowded with mourners. Now, hardly five to ten people come for a cremation. A few who visit say they came as they could not visit the deceased's home due to social distancing so they wanted a final glimpse,’’ added Vijay.
At another cremation ground at Manimajra in the city, the situation is the same. "Ashes from 85 cremations are in the lockers and a few others are tied to the trees," he says, adding that at both grounds mourners have to sanitise themselves and cover their faces with masks and also not more than twenty people are allowed per cremation.
It is no different at various cremation grounds across Punjab. "Ashes from around 250 cremations are lying with us in the lockers and more are piling up," says an employee of a cremation ground in Amritsar. In Mansa town of the state, an employee at a cremation ground says ashes from about 80 cremations are lying there.
In neighbouring Haryana, the authorities have asked families to keep the ashes with them till the lockdown is over and also issued orders that not more than twenty people can attend a funeral. Many people, however, have started immersing the ashes in Yamuna and Saraswati rivers in the state.