Tamil Nadu

Ensuring dignity for the dead in the time of a virus

Octogenarian undertaker continues to help bereaved families perform the last rites

The outbreak of COVID-19 has not deterred 85-year-old G. Mariammal from tending to the dead without fear.

Whenever people approach her to perform the last rites, the undertaker reaches the cremation ground in a tricycle carrying dung cakes, hay and firewood. She prepares the pyre with the help of her grandson and stays there till the end of all procedures to give a receipts to the family members.

Dip in numbers

“They say that the elderly, aged above 60, must stay indoors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But I need to perform my duty and make sure that a dead person gets the dignified last rites,” she says.

Like Ms. Mariammal, many workers of cremation grounds are performing their duties in these testing times. A. Venkateswaran, registrar at the cremation ground at Thathaneri, says that since the lockdown there has been a dip in the number of people opting for the traditional method of burning the mortal remains on a pyre of wooden logs.

Less cases

“Earlier, we used to cremate around 10 bodies every day. But, since the lockdown, we have around four cases. Because it is difficult for people to travel to the cremation ground amidst the curfew, many people head to the adjacent gasifier crematorium,” he says.

The workers who cannot avoid physical contact with the bodies while performing the last rites have not been provided hand gloves. While face masks are provided to many workers, some of them use kerchiefs to cover their face.

The number of people accompanying the dead person has come down to around 15, says A. Nagarajan, a worker at the cremation ground.


Sober participants

“With the closure of liquor shops because of the lockdown, those accompanying the dead person are sober. This has provided us some respite as this has prevented any possible quarrel at the cremation ground,” he says.

A. Gnanashekar , another worker at the cremation ground at Thathaneri, says that since the outbreak of the pandemic workers are anxious about the safety of their family members.

“But, we consider it an honour to perform the last rites of the dead. Being in the profession has made us realise that death, in fact, marks a new beginning,” he says.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 3:22:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/ensuring-dignity-for-the-dead-in-the-time-of-a-virus/article31265032.ece

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