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Lockdown effect: Virtual funerals, mourning on video chat

Source: PTI   -  Edited By: Utkarsh Mishra
April 02, 2020 16:13 IST
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In times of social distancing, thousands of people are dying alone without a last glimpse of their loved ones who are unable to reach them.


IMAGE: Police personnel stand guard as angry locals agitate at Dhapa Ground after they were not allowed to cremate the mortal remains of a coronavirus patient, during the nationwide lockdown, in Kolkata, on Wednesday. Photograph: PTI Photo

As a kind of hush settles deeper across the expanse of India and thousands of towns and villages shut down to ward off a pandemic, life goes on as it must -- and so does death.


In times of social distancing, thousands of people are dying alone without a last glimpse of their loved ones who are unable to reach them.

Mourning, too, is about isolation with no extended family, friends or even neighbours to share your grief in person.

In a dystopian present, imagined as a distant future only in fiction perhaps, the affluent and connected are mourning with each other through video conferencing and attending virtual funerals.

Others, in villages and towns without easy access to technology, are left to grieve, alone with their thoughts and no one to help with the healing process.

Delhi-based journalist Ritika Jain, who lost her her 85-year-old grandfather in Palitana, Gujarat, during the 21-day lockdown, which began on March 24 to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, couldn't get to meet him that one last time.

Her father managed to take the last flight from Mumbai to Bhavnagar just before the lockdown came into force but none of the others could.

They attended the funeral through the Zoom mobile application.

"In the evening, the entire family met virtually through Zoom, paid last respects to my grandfather and consoled each other," Jain said as the number of COVID-19 cases crossed 1,900 with 50 fatalities.

Actor Sanjay Suri did the same when his wife lost her grandmother.

'… it was so strange attending a funeral via Zoom. Strange times!' he wrote on Twitter.

With governments limiting the number of people who can attend a funeral to 20 or less, no way to travel from one city to another and passes needed to leave the house, deaths have become complicated beyond belief.

And the emotional trauma is just one of the many things to deal with.

When 77-year old Kesavan, who lives in a Chennai suburb, heard news of the death of his 94-year old mother at his sibling's home in a distant corner of the city, his first thought was the commute.

Finally, he told PTI, he just left home without waiting for the pass.

"The spectre of coronavirus is horrible as it punishes even those who are not affected,” added K Veeraraghavan, also from Chennai, who lost his father recently.

No members of the family could join the cremation.

Funerals have always been a time for social bonding in Indian society. But not any more with crematoriums and burial grounds strictly limiting the number of people allowed.

According to Rakesh Kapoor, caretaker of the Shamshan Ghat (Mukti Dham) in Punjab's Ludhiana town, the number of people at a cremation have come down sharply from 100 to just 20.

"As soon as the body arrives, we allow people to pay their last respects for just one or two minutes and then start the process of performing last rites," he said.

In Haryana, too, rules are being strictly followed.

Sukhbir Singh, from Gorakhpur village in the state, lost his uncle to cancer recently and said the family followed all the regulations.

But it all came at an emotional cost.

"The kind of support one gets from friends, neighbours and relatives is not there these days due to the restrictions," he said.

For many families, the lockdown has also meant coming to terms with the fact that everything cannot go as they had always planned.

In Odisha, for instance, many Hindus believe that those cremated in Swargadhar in Puri will get moksha.

On normal days, about 60 bodies are cremated at Swargadwar each day, said Bjay Kumar Das of the Puri Municipality. But this has come down to less than 10.

B Dhai, from Banki village in Cuttack, went to Swargadhar for his mother's last rites in accordance with her last wishes and a handful of family members accompanied the hearse to the seaside town.

However, the post death rituals have been done away with.

Church leaders are being equally strict.

"Normally, over 100 people are present at the burial ground during funeral of any member of our community. However, we will have to reduce the number to less than 20 during this 21-day period," said Paresh Das of the Church of Christ (Union Church) in Bhubaneswar.

In Mumbai, Bhaskar Gurav, death register officer of the Bandra-Kherwadi Crematorium said not everybody is following lockdown rules.

"We want one police constable should be there to control and restrict the crowds because they are putting other lives in danger," he said.

Shoeb Khatib, trustee of the Juma Masjid Trust which also looks after Mumbai's biggest graveyard, said about 120 bodies come into the Bada Kabrastan every month but due care is being taken.

"We have identified three spots for only COVID-19 dead bodies to be buried. For 15 years no one will touch their graves," Khatib told PTI.

Kerala's Palayam Juma Mosque has also cut down the number of family members allowed during the burial of any deceased.

"The health department has given strict instructions not to allow more than 10 people to be present during the burial ceremony," a mosque official said.

And the state-run Santhi Kavadam crematorium in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram is only allowing six to eight people during funerals.

In Telangana, the number is capped at 20, said a Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation official. Besides, social distancing is being followed, only one body is being cremated at a time and the management is ensuring the availability of hand sanitisers, gloves and masks.

Irrespective of faith, family members of the deceased are forced to cut short their rituals in Karnataka and leave as soon as the bodies are disposed of.

The burning of bodies using logs has stopped at the Harishchandra Ghatin Chamarajpet.

"We are not getting logs, camphor, ghee or diesel to perform the last rites. As a result, we are directing people to take the bodies to the electrical crematorium," Kiran Kumar, who arranges last rites at the Ghat, told PTI.

"We have announced that in the event of the death of a person, people should straight take the bodies to the burial ground instead of the mosque," said Maulana Maqsood Imran of Bengaluru's Jama Masjid.

Churches in the Karnataka capital have also directed family members to take the bodies directly to the cemetry and not organise any mass.

Business around the grounds has also been impacted.

Like in Bihar, which has a tradition of feeding those who carry a dead body to the place of cremation. Several shops close to the 'Baans ghaat' in Patna are now closed.

Surendra Kumar, who runs a small eatery in the area, pointed towards the many closed shops on either side of his stall.

"Business used to be brisk… But the lockdown has changed it all. Now only four or five people are coming to the ghat with dead bodies. Our businesses may have suffered but my heart goes out to the bereaved ones. A sizeable gathering lends strength to those who have lost a loved one," he added.

In Kolkata, too, there were reports of many families not finding enough people or vehicles to carry their dead ones to the burial ground or cremation.

"A family member of a close friend passed away. His relatives couldn't come due to the lockdown and there were only two men in the house, So three friends had to go and help them," said Arshad Ahmed, a resident of Belgachia in the city.

The family of Aziz, a 70-year-old who died in Uttar Pradesh's Pilibhit district last week, can give some clues on how to conduct a funeral of a loved one.

His family members carried the body in a handcart and not on shoulders to the burial ground as is the ritual, strictly maintaining the laid down guidelines of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Source: PTI  -  Edited By: Utkarsh Mishra© Copyright 2022 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.
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