Sandeep Singh: Amritsar’s Crematoriums Struggle To Keep Up With The Pandemic’s Second Wave
Baaz has learned that Amritsar’s two main crematoriums, Shivpuri and Chatiwind Gate, have seen a recent doubling of cremations
May 11, 2021 | 2.5 min. read
Punjab is not immune as the pandemic’s second wave shakes India.
While the world watches cities like Delhi grapple with the fallout of new variants and increased transmission, Amritsar has quietly seen a spike in COVID-19 related deaths as well.
Baaz has learned that Amritsar’s two main crematoriums, Shivpuri and Chatiwind Gate, have seen a recent doubling of cremations.
I visited both crematoriums late last week and witnessed the grim reality for myself.
Shivpuri was full of Sikhs and Hindus cremating their deceased family members, while workers loaded firewood off rickshaws. Some employees were busy making pyres, while others worked away building new platforms as demand has begun to outstrip existing capacity.
One of those working is a man named Suresh.
“We are overloaded with work. Every day we start at 7:30 AM and work till 10:00 PM. More bodies are coming so we have to make more funeral pyres.”
A young woman who goes by Geeta speaks up as well. She serves water inside the crematorium and has witnessed the depressing exponential growth in funeral services at Shivpuri.
“They bring two to three bodies in an ambulance for cremation. At least 15-20 COVID-19 related deaths are being brought here every day. “
Ramesh Chandar Sharma is the president of the Durgiana Temple Committee, which manages the Shivpuri Crematorium. While he is not involved in the cremation work directly, he has been busy ordering construction materials to expand the site to ensure operations can keep up with the pandemic.
“Since the second wave started, more people are dying and cremations have increased. Before COVID, Only nine to 12 dead bodies used to be brought for a cremation every day. But after this new wave, approximately 20-30, 30-40 and 40-45 dead bodies are being brought here every day,” he shares.
Like many crematoriums in Delhi and elsewhere, Sharma shares that Shivpuri hit a new grim milestone, as they try to meet the demands of families during what are trying times.
“We constructed 16 more cremation platforms, which takes total platforms to 100. If we got more empty land we will build cremation platforms. It is quite common for people to collect ashes of their loved ones three to four days after the cremation, that is why we need 50 cremation platforms for every day. We have requested people to collect ashes the third day after cremation.”
There are plans to build more cremation platforms with the support of nearby Punjab Urban Development Authority (PUDA) land. Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, has assured the Durgiana Temple Committee that PUDA land will be transferred to their crematorium.
However, regardless of all attempts, Sharma shares the sad truth that they have at times failed to keep up with delivered bodies.
“Sometimes so many people die and their bodies are brought to the crematorium that we are left with no option but to burn their bodies on the ground. It happened on three occasions.”
Another telling sign of the growing impact of the Coronavirus is the impact it is having on the firewood market. Sharma claims that before the second wave, one quintal of wood used to cost around 270-290 rupees, however, it now costs approximately 300 to 340 rupees.
“Our one store full of firewood is empty now”, he says as demand strips supply of wood.
The Durgiana Committee has an electronic crematorium but people are reluctant to use it. According to Sharma, an electronic cremation takes just two hours and they are making it free to encourage its use but so far the uptake has been limited.
Sandeep Singh hails from Machhiwara, Punjab. As an independent journalist, he has worked with many prominent Indian news organizations. Sandeep has been following the farmer’s protest in Punjab since its onset and traveled with them to Delhi. He spends most of his time at the Singhu border protest site. You can follow Sandeep on Twitter @Punyaab
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