Amongst the angst and uncertainty of the pandemic, we lost so many lives, at the same time the front-line workers were trying their best to save every life they could. We still have a group of workers who are equivalently exposed to the deadly virus but are not considered in the category of front-line workers – The Crematorium Workers.
The plight of underpaid and overworked crematorium workers often misses the headlines for a normal citizen today, who is just struggling to get a vaccine slot. Ever since I remember, the mentions of mass death and massive genocides were only in my history books. When I was skimming through the chapters of the Jewish holocaust and India’s partition, my subconscious could never imagine that I would be witnessing so many causalities every single day. But when I think about those who had the first-hand experience of seeing those deaths, my eyes turn watery, as they are the ones who see and work around the piles of dead bodies.
An NDTV report said, “A 19-year-old crematorium worker is building his seventh pyre of the day at a crematorium in east Delhi’s Ghazipur – and it’s only lunchtime. He works in the section meant to receive bodies of Covid victims. He wears only a mask; a PPE is a far cry. The flames are too hot and too close to him to comfortably and safely wear a plastic PPE suit.”
Low pay, poor treatment and pathetically hazardous conditions make the work of these workers even worse. It’s visibly unfortunate that in spite of being so dangerously exposed to the risk of this virus, they are not seen as the frontline workers. They are forced to cover their face with literally anything but not an N95 mask and have to attend to the dead bodies without wearing a PPE Kit. There is no redressal mechanism in place to protect them either physically or mentally from the havoc of the pandemic.
They risk their lives during every step of the cremation process, not only can they contact COVID-19, but also diseases like, HIV, hepatitis, typhoid, cholera, and tuberculosis. The transmission can take place even if the cremation workers deal with the bones with bare hands and without any protective equipment. Muslim and Christain Creamtoriums where bodies are buried also have an equal risk of transmission of these diseases.
Last year during the Janta Curfew when we religiously banged the thaalis for all our front line workers, did any of us even give the slightest thought to these crematorium workers? When we lit up the diyas for the strength of the nation to fight this pandemic, did any of us even thought about those fires that these workers might have to burn every hour, which might not be pious to them? Did we ever think what they were going through thinking that the last rites they are performing for the body might not have met their loved ones before leaving?
The life cycle comes to an end when it’s designated to, but have we ever thought about those who are the last link between the physical presence of the body and its physical absence, what hardships they might face while being the last bridge. For those who we can’t relate with but only emphasize, for those who we might miss in the counting of the front line workers, can’t we just work for their betterment? The generosity that few people show by tipping them isn’t enough for them to recover from the mental agony that they go through on a day-to-day basis.
Isn’t it strange that something as basic as oxygen can fail to reach the human lungs once a virus like COVID-19 enters the human body.Isn’t it paradoxical that those who might have fought over different ideologies met an unfortunate end and weren’t even cremated by the rules their ideology suggested? Isn’t it worrying that Ganga, the river which stands as a standard of ideological piousness had 100 dead bodies in her and no one even had the slightest idea, until those bodies surfaced? Isn’t COVID becoming a strange phenomena that makes us dwell about those who make the bodies reach the last phase of human life, deteriorating themselves in the middle of their lives?
Those whom we lost because of the severity of the pandemic can not be brought back to life again, but those whom we are losing every day while ending the life cycle can be taken care of. So, my dear crematorium worker, I do think about you when I think of front line workers, I do voice my support for your protection, I do pray for your recovery from the mental scars this pandemic might have created, my dear crematorium worker, I am sorry for my neglect, but believe me, I do acknowledge your pain and your work towards the recovery of humanity from the catastrophe we all saw.
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