Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)
Funeral services step in, as curbs keep families away in Delhi
NEW DELHI: With the daily Covid-19 death toll in the city staying above 300 for the past five days, and with travel restrictions to India imposed by several countries, funeral organisers in the Capital are stepping up to ensure that people get a respectable farewell even if their loved ones cannot make it for the last rites.
These funeral service providers are not just assisting families in making arrangements, but in several cases, are performing rituals in the absence of family members.
The second national Covid-19 wave across the county -and the fourth in Delhi -- has turned out to be the deadliest yet. In the Capital, about 25,000 people have tested positive for the virus every day for the past few days. On Sunday, Delhi recorded 350 deaths, while on Saturday the number was 357, and on Friday, 348 lives were lost. The average Covid-19-related deaths in the past seven days was 304.
India, meanwhile, recorded staggering 354,000 new cases, according to Sunday’s numbers.
As cases mount, the US has issued an advisory asking people, even those who are fully vaccinated, to avoid going to India. The UK, Singapore, New Zealand Oman, Kuwait, Canada, the UAE, Iran, and Bangladesh have also imposed restrictions on travellers from India, or issued advisories against going to India during this surge.
Several funeral organisers across the city said there has been a rise in requests from people living abroad, or currently stuck in other cities, to take care of the last rites of their loved ones.
Officials at Messy funerals, a service provider in Civil Lines, said their phone has been ringing off the hook for a week.
Vineeta Messy, the owner of the company, said they have recently completed the last rituals of two elderly people, aged 76 and 82, who died of virus-related complications at their home in Indirapuram, Ghaziabad. “Their children are in the US and could not come to India. We got a call from them, and when we reached their home, the domestic help was there with the bodies. We collected the bodies and performed the rituals. We also streamed the ceremony to the children. There have been many such requests recently,” she said.
Funeral organisers are offering packages -- ranging from ₹5,000 to ₹20,000 -- which cover services such as organising a hearse van to pick up the body, arranging materials for the rituals, finding a priest, and getting space in a crematorium or burial ground where the finals rites can take place.
Some of them also provide the service free to families who cannot afford the charges.
According to some funeral service providers, the number of requests has risen from the US, the UK, Canada, and the UAE.
“Earlier we used to get hardly 50 calls a week for any sort of assistance. But these days, we are getting around 300 calls a day. We don’t have the resources to cater to all requests. We wish we had more ambulances and staff to serve everyone,” said Daljit Singh of Antim Yatra.
To be sure, not all of these are Covid deaths.
Cyril Joseph, the owner of the JCJ Funerals in Kalkaji Extension, said they recently conducted the funeral of a Covid patient from CR Park whose entire family was also Covid-positive. “It was heartbreaking for them to send their father off on his last journey all alone. We collected the body, and performed the last rites, and live-streamed the ceremony to the family. We also picked up the ashes the next day,” he said.
For such families, however, closure is hard to come by.
Akshit Sharma, 25, who works in Pune and is presently Covid-positive, used a funeral service to cremate his aunt who died after being infected with Covid in Delhi.
“My aunt, 58, always lived alone in Delhi. She never got married or had children. We were like her own kids. It feels devastating that we could not see her one last time. We have requested a local temple to keep her ashes till we are able to immerse them,” he said.
Officials at some burial grounds and crematoriums also said they have seen several such “lonely” last journeys.
Mohammad Shamim, the supervisor of Delhi’s biggest burial ground at ITO, said, “There have been several cases when no one was there to even help us put the body in the grave. It feels really bad seeing people die such lonely deaths.”