[ New Dehli, INDIA ] Contractual municipal workers from different religions and cultures wearing PPE suits bury a patient who lost his life to the COVID-19 at a cemetery in New Delhi, India on 14 May 2020.

 

“Pair me Infection tha … death kar gayi ammi”

(She had a infection in her leg and then tested positive
for coronavirus and died in the hospital )

– said Rashid a 14-year-old standing by the body of his mother waiting for his turn to get her buried.

 

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc in India  more space for cremation and burial is now the need . Not being able to bid final adieu to the loved ones has already taken a toll on the mental health of people, adding to their woes is the operational difficulties and lack of space for last rites.

Delhi has 13 cremation grounds, four graveyards and a cemetery managed by the civic bodies. Of these, six cremation grounds, four burial grounds and the lone cemetery have been dedicated for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients. But as Delhi’s coronavirus death toll is rising on a daily basis, a direct impact of this situation can be seen on burial grounds which are facing the heat of more and more incoming bodies. The bodies usually arrive in multiple numbers, (2-3) bodies in one vehicle as the family members wait outside along with the contractual graveyard workers and would eventually open up their PPE (Personal Protection Equipments) suits and gear up for the burial process.  It is a heart wrenching sight to see bulldozers / earthmovers digging up a grave and the family members standing far to perform the customary rituals by turning the pile of mud with the final namaz.

It is not easy for the gravediggers, the contractual labours and the ambulance driver. Beating the heat of over 40 degrees now in a PPE, the constant influx of bodies, over time work tire them. Hygiene and washing hands is a practice they follow but by the end of the day the logic takes a backseat when they see the helplessness and desperation of the family members of the departed souls.

Finally the apex court has intervened saying the last rites of the people victim of this pandemic must be undertaken with dignity.

In the last few days Delhi has seen a huge surge is cases. The overall figures point at a grim situation in the coming days. The Delhi government has already hinted at there being 5 lakh COVID-19 cases by the end of July. This would certainly mean that the number of deaths in the national capital could also rise exponentially. So would the need for space in burial grounds.

Anindito MUKHERJEE Anindito is an independent photojournalist and documentary photographer, with experience in covering news, politics, economics, and documentary stories. He started his career with India Today in 2006 and has subsequently been a part of global newswire agencies like EPA, Reuters and Bloomberg. Anindito's work has been featured in leading newspapers, magazines, online forums and other publications globally including The New York Times, Time Magazine, IHT, Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Globe and Mail. He deftly uses his photography skills in projects that cross-over from journalism to the development sector and the corporate world. His clients include Vedenta, the World Health Organization, The Rotary International, UNICEF and WaterAid India.