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“Before the pandemic, we used to cremate 8-10 people daily, now creating 100-120 daily,” said crematorium head, but is govt in denial of death rates?

“Before the pandemic, we used to cremate 8-10 people daily, now cremating 100-120 daily,” said the head of  Seemapuri crematorium in New Delhi, eastern New Delhi.  However, there are certain people in the government who are living in denial of the deaths and have even said, “Stop believing propaganda and fake news.”

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said that India has one of the lowest COVID mortality rates in the world and this very statement seemed to suggest to the people of India that he is downplaying the deaths of their loved ones and the reality of the situation because it was said at a time when death rates were mounting frighteningly the highest and things were out of control.

Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, told a news conference. “The exponential growth that we have seen in case numbers is really, truly astonishing, we have seen similar trajectories of increases in transmission in a number of countries, it has not been at the same scale and it has not had the same level of impact of burden on the healthcare system that we have seen in India.”

In fact, right now, 40 nations around the world are rising up to help India to tide through this monstrous wave of COVID.  The USA has sent 100 million dollars to tide over this violent second wave, and help is pouring in for India from all sides including thousands of citizens.  If something was “fake” then no one would be terrified nor would anyone help.

On the other hand, there are people who are defending the government and have explained that “All this is due to govt/local bodies not allowing cremation in all crematoriums. They have been designated only a few (10-15 % ) for COVID positive cases for safety and cremations cant happen elsewhere. That’s why the mad rush and queue.”  There are videos in WhatsApp are circulating stating the death rates are “fake propaganda.” and that “There are no people dying outside hospitals, all this is fake!”  These are said by prominent people who support the government.

The pandemic’s second wave became a nightmare, every day became a fight for survival while thousands gasping for oxygen amid black market prices soaring up for both oxygen and medicine.  In the framework of India’s anguish, roaring flames sputter through long agonizing nights amid wails of sorrow and chanting prayers of grieving families as their loved ones are cremated on funeral pyres and this is occurring all over the country.

“Before the pandemic, we used to cremate eight to 10 people (daily),” said Jitender Singh Shunty, head of the Seemapuri crematorium in eastern New Delhi. “Now, we are cremating 100 to 120 a day.”

In fact, the demand is so huge that Seemapuri crematorium has extended its parking lot, where dozens of workers construct new cremation platforms from bricks and mortar. There is so little space and so many bodies that families have to get a ticket and wait in line for their turn.  Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra spoke on television urgently about the masses being buried and cremated in a very nightmarish situation for Indians during the COVID rage.

Famous Indian journalist and columnist at the Washington Post, Barkha Dutt who just lost her father to COVID said through tears that she being a privileged middle-upper class Indian had great difficulty getting an ICU bed for her father and then later, even a spot for his cremation where people were fighting for the same spot.  She empathized with the pain of thousands who would not be as privileged as she was, and be undergoing far worse situations.

There have been so many fires that have been lit in New Delhi that wood stocks are dropping down and on Tuesday, Jai Prakash, the mayor of North Delhi, wrote a letter to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, asking that the forest department provide a steady supply.  Families have to pay for the wood to burn their relatives’ bodies.

On Thursday, more than 3,600 people died and Delhi’s facilities have been cremating more than 600 bodies daily for the past week, according to the mayor of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation. This is double the official daily death toll for the city, and a pointer there may be a huge underreporting on this.

During the second wave of COVID, experts, medical workers, crematorium staff, and politicians signal that the absolute number of new cases and deaths indicate that young people are being seriously impacted, unlike the first wave.

“In this wave of coronavirus, the young people are getting infected,” said Chief Minister Kejriwal in a video tweeted on April 15. “I appeal to all the young people to take care of themselves.”

In serious attempts to suppress the virus, numerous states and cities have executed fresh restrictions and shut down businesses.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the acquisition of 100,000 portable oxygen concentrators, in addition to hundreds of new oxygen generation plants.  International aid started to pour in on Tuesday, with countries around the globe sending oxygen cylinders, ventilators, medication, and other essential supplies.

All this will take time as distribution is slow and oxygen plants need to be constructed.  There is anger and frustration towards the government’s seemingly lackadaisical response in developing good strong networking of people to distribute the supplies.  A lot of deaths have occurred due to essential requirements and even oxygen “not arriving on time.”

There is a general feeling among the people that the government instead of building the medical infrastructure instead grabbled with building the Central Vista Project which cost 20,000 crores (US$2.8 billion) looked upon as an extravagant waste of money.  The BJP government spent most of the time playing the religious card with temple, mandir, and statues rather than technology, hospitals, manufacturing units, which would have in turn created jobs for the jobless millions.

Somehow, dividing the nation on the basis of religion seemed to work well for votes, but now, today, facing the deluge of death each day, priorities may have changed for the people because death becomes a defining reality to chase away falsities.

It is terribly ridiculous that at such a grave time as this, prominent people are sending WhatsApp videos trying to negate the reality of the agony in a bid to protect the image of the government which they claim is being tarnished.  They are more worried about the image of the government than about the pain of the people who have lost their loved ones in the battle against Corona.  The government should throw up their hands and admit they failed because of their wrong misplaced priorities.

While it is not the time to say “to tu mei mei.” unfortunately when the government is in such a defensive mode, the same mistakes will continue.  Living in denial is dangerous because the wrongs will never be corrected and in the end, more lives will be lost.

The government should now reach out and help the hurting masses by ensuring brevity of supply of oxygen, hospital beds, and medical supplies, guaranteeing that these will not be sold in the black market, and clean out the system from corruption to see that people designated to help the public will not cheat citiens by hiking up prices and deliver.  Perhaps then, the government can really restore back their “tarnished” image.  But will the government do that?

Barkha Dutt says:
From Delhi to Lucknow, Surat to Bhopal, huge gap between Death Data and Cremations on ground is critical. My report
@themojostory
with an undertaker volunteer in Delhi who says “It feels like not just humans, humanity is dying”. Bleak, Desolate & what some don’t want you to see

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