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Cremation of Padma Shri awardee Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa delayed

Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa receiving the Padma Shri Award 2009 from Pratibha Patil, President of India, at the Civil Investiture Ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on March 31, 2009.

Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa receiving the Padma Shri Award 2009 from Pratibha Patil, President of India, at the Civil Investiture Ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on March 31, 2009.   | Photo Credit: S. Subramanium

The cremation of Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa, a Padma Shri awardee who died of COVID-19 was delayed as residents of his native town in Punjab feared it would spread the deadly coronavirus in the locality.

Soon after it was known that Mr. Khalsa would be cremated at a local facility in Verka town, several residents of the vicinity reached the cremation ground and surrounded it. They opposed his cremation out of fear that it could result in an outbreak of COVID-19 in the area.

‘Misplaced fear’

“Out of some misplaced sense of fear that the cremation could result in an outbreak of the coronavirus, a few people resisted the cremation. After negotiations with locals, who offered a secluded village common land at a little distance from the cremation ground, the last rites were held in the evening,” Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon, Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, told The Hindu.

Mr. Dhillon said the residents of the town also announced that they would build a memorial for Mr. Khalsa at the site of the cremation.

Mr. Khalsa was a former ‘Hazoori Raagi’ (spiritual singer) at Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar and had recently returned from abroad. He was undergoing treatment at the Guru Nanak Dev Hospital in Amritsar after he complained of breathlessness and showed symptoms of respiratory distress on March 30, and tested positive for COVID-19 positive. He died on April 2.

Mr. Khalsa, who was awarded a Padma Shri in 2009, was proficient in singing ‘Gurbani’ of the Guru Granth Sahib, based on 31 raags.

‘Deep resentment’

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on Friday said the denial of cremation to the mortal remains of Mr. Khalsa had caused deep resentment in the minds of the Sikh community and the Punjab government must take immediate steps to assuage their sentiments.

SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said it was condemnable that no action had been taken against all those who had locked the cremation ground at Verka. “Swift action should be taken by the State government to send out a clear message that it does not condone this insult to the Sikh community,” he said.

Mr. Badal said the Punjab government should have taken appropriate steps to ensure the mortal remains of the great ‘ragi’ were not disrespected. “In fact, the government should have consigned the mortal remains of Bhai Khalsa to flames with full State honours keeping in view the fact that he was the first ‘Kirtaniya’ to be awarded the Padam Shri in the country,” he added.

The SAD president said it was also unfortunate that the local administration did not take up the offer of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to assist in holding the last rites and instead performed the last rites in a “roughshod manner”. “This is highly condemnable,” Mr. Badal said.

‘Issue guidelines’

Mr. Badal asked the State government to apologise to Mr. Khalsa’s family. “The State government should also issue strict directives to ensure no one faces discrimination following death at the hands of COVID-19. Guidelines should be issued to ensure relatives are facilitated to take part in the cremation, as in such cases the immediate next of kin are placed under quarantine,” he said.

Aam Aadmi Party MLA and Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema said, “The way in which late Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsaji’s cremation and last rites were disrupted is deeply saddening.”

Mr. Cheema said the government should immediately bring an ordinance with guidelines for respectful performance of last rites of the deceased in COVID-19-related cases.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 5:46:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/cremation-of-padma-shri-awardee-bhai-nirmal-singh-khalsa-delayed/article31250638.ece

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