CHANDIGARH: The kin of COVID-19 victims in Punjab are refusing to perform the last rites of their loved ones fearing that they would catch the virus and residents of the area have also raised objections to the cremations of the deceased. Thus the Punjab government has tasked municipal workers with carrying out the cremations and is also identifying designated spaces for this purpose.
Talking to The New Indian Express, Additional Chief Secretary (Urban Local Bodies), Punjab, Sanjay Kumar said, "We have directed the major municipalities in the state to identify open spaces in their respective areas for the last rites of those who died due to the coronavirus as people are objecting to their cremations in the cremation grounds in their areas due to unfounded fears. Once these designated places are identified, the cremations will take place there."
He went on to add, "Family members are also shying away from cremating their loved ones who die due to this virus so the staff of the local municipalities and district administration have been instructed to cremate these bodies. The staff have been directed to ensure hand hygiene, use masks and gloves. The family members can see the face of the deceased as the body bag in unzipped but they cannot touch the body. They can perform the religious rituals."
On April 9, the family of Mohan Singh, the sarpanch of Chatmali village in Ropar district, did not attend his cremation as they feared that they would catch the virus. Thus two state cabinet ministers, Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu and Technical Education and Industrial Training Minister Charanjit Singh Channi attended the funeral of Singh.
"There is no threat to one’s health if one attends the funeral of a patient who died of this disease or if the ashes are collected. Health officials are taking all precautions to cremate the dead," says Sidhu.
This was not the first such case. Earlier on April 7, the family of 65-year-old Jaswinder Singh, a retired superintending engineer with the Amritsar Municipal Corporation, refused to cremate him. Interestingly, his daughter is a medical student. A municipal corporation worker lit his pyre.
The family members of a 69-year-old woman of Shimlapuri village in Ludhiana too refused to cremate her. The woman's son was told by the district administration to cremate his mother’s body as he will be given protective gear but he refused point-blank.
When Padma Shri awardee Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa, a former `Hazoori Ragi’ at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, died of the virus on April 2, residents of Verka village did not allow his cremation in their cremation ground as they feared the virus will spread in the area.
Till date, twelve people have died in the state due to COVID-19.