Ghaziabad: Suraj Kumar is one of the non-regular staff members of a small, six-member team roped in by the Ghaziabad municipal corporation to make arrangements for the cremation of Covid-related and suspected deaths at the Hindon cremation ground. He says that the effect of the pandemic is such that families stay away from handling or touching bodies, with him and his team members providing them all possible help.
An HT visit to the Hindon cremation ground revealed that several families preferred to stay away from handling bodies of their kin or even placing them on the platforms due to fear of infection. The bodies of suspected cases, too, arrived packed in bags, as per Covid protocols.
“They look upon us to help them out and we don’t deny them. The situation is such that people are scared. But this is work for us. We unload bodies and place them on platforms, placing wood over them to start the cremation. Only those family members come near the bodies which have PPE kits on. Still, they keep a safe distance. Our team works in time slots, and we handle the burning pyres as late as midnight,” said Suraj Kumar, one of the members of the team at the Hindon cremation ground.
“Generally, kin leave after the pyre is lit. It usually takes four-six hours thereafter, but people leave within half-an-hour to one hour, maximum. They do not want to stay in a high-risk area for long. But our team works in time slots and ensures till midnight to ensure blaze is spread to all parts the entire body. We also ensure that masks and PPE kits are disposed of safely. Sometimes, they are thrown about in the open, but we take care of them,” Kumar added.
A family which arrived at the cremation ground to collect the ashes stayed away from the platform and a majority of the work was taken up by the team members for them.
“They are really a great help as people stay away from the platforms and some are scared to even get close to the pyres. The team performs many tasks during the last rites and helps out families who have suffered losses. The situation is such that people do not want to even touch the bodies,” the family member of a person who died of Covid, requesting anonymity, said.
The officials of the corporation said that the team members were not regular staff of the corporation but were roped in under the “Kendriya Ajivika Mission” scheme, which would earn them a monthly sum of about ₹8000 each.
“We have also roped in more team members to look after the drinking water and parking arrangements and another team of three-four is working at the other crematorium at Noor Nagar. We have given them protection kits, masks and sanitizers for safety. This team was roped in this year as the burden increased suddenly during April, and they are managing the work in a proper manner,” said Pramod Kumar, additional municipal commissioner.
Mohammad Yusuf, another team member at Hindon, said that given the present situation, the team members go out of the way to help families.
“Like in cases when one has to collect ashes, people prefer to pick only a few and our team helps them out with the rest. Cleaning platforms and preparing them for the next cremation is also part of the work. The remnants of the ashes also need to be disposed of safely. It is now a routine job for us and if we begin to feel scared, we will not be able to perform our duties. Helping out families in their painful moments in turn helps us be at peace,” he added.
Officials said they have worked out a plan for testing and vaccination of the team members. According to officials familiar with the development, cremation of about 370 Covid-19 and Covid-suspected cases took place at the Hindon cremation ground in April.
“At present, the numbers have reduced to a maximum of 15 cremations of confirmed or suspected cases per day. The team is still on the job. We will get them tested at regular intervals and will also ensure that they get vaccinated at the earliest, as their job is of such nature that it requires their regular health monitoring,” the additional municipal commissioner said.