Hit by financial woes, COVID-19 victims’ families question cremation charges in Manipur
As the poor questions the cremation charges, concerned authority says cremation money is charged for the purpose of paying the cremators.
As both the rich and the poor alike have to cremate the bodies of COVID-19 victims, while the former could afford the charge and the government is yet to address the issue, poor families question the cremation charge.
"Money is charged for cremation of COVID-19 patients’ bodies for the purpose of paying the cremators and buying materials to be utilised at the time of cremation," Imphal West Deputy Commissioner Th Kirankumar told the Imphal Free Press during a telephonic interview on Sunday.
Kirankumar said that during the first wave of COVID-19 in the state, the expenses for cremation of COVID-19 patients’ bodies were taken care of by the concerned deputy commissioners. However, in the second wave, the number of deaths has been increasing consistently; and moreover the state government has been facing shortage of funds. Consequently, the expenses for cremation of the dead bodies of COVID-19 victims have been charged to the family members, he added.
The deputy commissioner said if a person succumbs to COVID-19 in a hospital, the hospital authority should contact the respective deputy commissioner of the district where the deceased person belongs. According to the consent of the family members, the body will be cremated either at a common cremation ground or at their locality.
For cremation in the locality, a ‘No Objection Certification’ is needed from the respective local organisations where the body is to be cremated, he added.
Mentioning that there are two rates on the charges of cremation, Kirankumar said that if the body is to be cremated in common cremation ground by the Imphal Municipal Corporation (IMC) then the family members have to pay a sum of Rs 15,000. For cremation in a local crematorium, the family members need to carry the expenses of all the materials to be used at the time of cremation. Later, people from IMC will traditionally cremate the body and the family members have to pay Rs 8,000 as cremation charges, he added.
When this IFP reporter contacted sanitary jamandar of IMC, Md Anwar over the phone, he said that money is charged for cremation of COVID-19 related bodies so that it can be utilised at the time of cremation.
Anwar, who takes the main responsibility for cremation of COVID-19 infected bodies, said that no person is willing to get involved for cremation of COVID-19 related bodies. The volunteers for the process of cremation are hired without disclosing their identities as they worry about stigmatisation and being excluded by the society for their job. However, they play a major role in disposing of the dead bodies of COVID-19 victims.
"The dead bodies have to be cremated at any cost; otherwise they will decay and could bring a more horrendous situation in the society amidst COVID-19 pandemic," Anwar said.
He further said that a sum of Rs 15,000 should be paid by the family members through the concerned DCs if the body has to be cremated by IMC without involvement of family members. From the total amount, Rs 8,000 is deducted to pay the hired persons only for transportation of the dead body and the remaining Rs 7,000 is utilised to buy the materials used at the time of cremation.
In some cases, family members take the responsibility for cremation, including transportation of the body without ambulance charges, he added.
Anwar also said he has been taking the main responsibility for cremation of COVID infected bodies since the first wave and over 300 bodies have been cremated by him till date.
“I always take the consent from the family members before burning the body during cremation. I also feel bad about the present scenario in taking charges for cremation from the family members who have been suffering due to COVID-19. However, I was only ordered to perform my job and to do so I have to take the money to get the materials to be used in the last rite,” said Anwar.
Anwar is a Muslim, which religion forbids the job of cremation, is now not permitted to enter a mosque, but he continues to serve the people.
“Being a Muslim, I am not supposed to do this job as cremation is strictly forbidden in my culture and religion, and now I am not allowed to enter a mosque. For the welfare of the people and being a state government employee, I am continuing my duty though the government does not recognise me as a regular employee of IMC,” he said.
Recently one 97 year-old man was reportedly taken to RIMS due to breathing complications. Later the hospital authority told the family members that he succumbed to COVID-19.
The son of the deceased old man told the Imphal Free Press that his father suffered from complication in breathing which had become a chronic lung disease. He was taken to RIMS as his condition worsened but when they reached the hospital, the authorities said that his father was tested COVID-19 positive and could not survive, the son added.
The family members of the old man paid a sum of Rs 15,000 as cremation charge through the concerned DC.
“If proper and necessary initiatives for cremation of COVID-19-related bodies are taken by the state government, then the sufferings of the family members of COVID-19 victims could be reduced to some extent,” the son of the deceased said.