The crematorium at Ghazipur on the Delhi-Ghaziabad border can be identified by the fumes emanating from it, which can be seen from a distance. The narrow, two-way road leading to the crematorium is lined with bodies. Its parking has been converted into a makeshift area for pyres.
India’s second wave of the coronavirus has devastated Delhi, overwhelming the healthcare system. According to official statistics released on Thursday evening, the national capital recorded nearly 25,000 new COVID-19 cases. The data also said 395 COVID-19 patients died during the day.
At the Ghazipur crematorium, relatives first need to notify the office if the body is of a COVID-19 patient. Then, they themselves have to carry the packed to the pyres, some of which are only half-extinguished. Even the wood needed to burn the pyre has to carried by the people accompanying the dead. The crematorium has never seen such a large number of funerals, says the assistant who is supervising the last rites. Adding to the exhaustion is Delhi’s summer, with temperatures soaring past 40 degree Celsius.
Outside the crematorium, the words ‘Mukti Dham’ (Abode of Salvation) are engraved. In these desperate times, cremation rites are not available as hundreds of funerals need to be conducted every day.
Many people at the crematorium are not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), which the guidelines mandate. When I asked a person who had arrived to oversee a cremation, he said, “We spent a huge amount of money to buy medicines and oxygen, but it was not enough. We do not have the money to procure PPE kits. As long as the body is cremated, that is enough.”
All photos by Shome Basu.