No PPE Kits, No Health Insurance: Meet the COVID Crematorium Staff

Here’s how crematorium and graveyard staff is performing last rites of COVID victims.

3 min read

Video Editors: Kunal Mehra, Prashant Chauhan

Till 3 June, COVID-19 has claimed more than 5,800 lives across the country. But even while dealing with the bodies of the deceased, several safety guidelines and protocols need to be strictly adhered to in order to curb the spread of the deadly disease.

In the national capital, the last rites of COVID-19 victims are being performed in nine crematoriums and burial grounds. The Quint visited three places in New Delhi to find out how the last rites of those who died due to COVID-19 are performed and what are the guidelines that are being followed. The protocol is the same for confirmed as well as suspected COVID-19 deaths.

No PPE kits, no health insurance, no help from the Delhi Police or the Delhi government, watch how the staff at Delhi's Jadid Qabristan and Nigam Bodh Ghat are performing the last rites of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 victims, yet following safety protocol as much as possible.

‘No PPE Kits, No Health Insurance’

Thirty-eight-year-old Mohd Shamim is the supervisor at Delhi’s Jadid Qabristan. He has been working there for the past 25 years. His family has been working at the graveyard for three generations. He stays inside the graveyard premises with his wife and four daughters.

Shamim told The Quint that ever since the pandemic broke out, the Delhi Police has designated this graveyard for COVID-19 cases, but they don’t have proper facilities. They have not even been provided with proper PPE kits, he added.

“PPE kits are the most important for us. We have been battling COVID-19 face-to-face. We bury four to five COVID-19-affected bodies daily. We don’t even have any health insurance. We don’t have any curfew passes. Now there are relaxations but only we know how we managed for 55 days under lockdown. Even the Delhi government hasn’t provided us with any facilities. We got 20 kits from the MCD. We ask hospitals to send in some safety kits so that we can safely work here. So they have offered help but we haven’t got any help from the Delhi government.”
Mohd Shamim, Supervisor, Jadid Qabristan

Shamim also said that since he has to handle COVID-19-affected bodies without proper PPE kits, often he doesn’t go home to keep his family safe.

‘Have to Work for Longer Than Usual’

Fifty-five-year-old Harendra has been working at Delhi’s Nigam Bodh Ghat crematorium for the past 10 years. He performs the last rites of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 victims.

At Delhi’s Nigam Bodh Ghat, the last rites of non-COVID victims are performed on wooden pyres but a CNG crematorium is used for COVID-19 cases. At present, there are only two CNG crematorium operators assigned for COVID-19 deaths – Harendra and Pappu. Ever since the outbreak of the pandemic, Harendra has to work for 12-13 hours instead of the usual 8 hours daily. Often he can’t go back home on time.

“Ever since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have performed last rites of 150-200 bodies. Harendra and Pappu – only the two of us are designated to cremate COVID-19 victims. Only the two of us operate the CNG crematorium. We get 15 cases daily.”
Harendra, Staff, Nigam Bodh Ghat

At the Jadid Qabristan, Mohd Shamim’s day usually starts at 6 in the morning. But his COVID-19 duties start at 9 am and continue till 6 in the evening. When The Quint asked him what happens when a COVID-19-affected body comes in after 6 pm, he said:

“I am always around. Because I am on COVID-19 duty, I don’t go home. And if a body comes in after 6 pm, we allot it time the next day. We explain it to the family members and allot them time at 9 am the next morning.”
Mohd Shamim. Supervisor, Jadid Qabristan

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