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Rashmi Ranjan

Bhubaneswar: Despite Odisha government’s plethora of measures to create awareness among masses about Covid-19, fear and social stigma surrounding the deadly virus continues to haunt people not only in the interior pockets but also in the urban areas of the State.

While the society is expected to act humanely at this time of crisis, the ground realities speak different stories.

Instances of bodies of Covid patients  lying unattended and no one turning up for the last rites fearing contamination have become a regular affair in the nook and corner of the State. 

As if that was not enough, reports of families and relatives of deceased coronavirus patients not turning up at the cremation sites to collect the ash of their near and dear ones has surfaced in Sundargarh and Cuttack.

According to sources, the ‘Masani Bandhu’, a voluntary organization, at Rani Bagicha cremation site in Sundargarh has cremated as many as 250 bodies in the last two months as relatives of many deceased did not turn up to attend the last rites of their loved ones fearing contamination. 

Moreover, what is more disheartening is the fact that the relatives of the Covid victims are not even coming forward to collect the ashes of their loved ones to perform the immersion rites which is an integral part of  Hindu custom for the liberation of the soul.

“After performing the last rites of the bodies, I am contacting the family members of the deceased person/s to collect the ashes for the immersion rituals. But to my surprise, many are not collecting,” lamented Kamlesh Nathani, a Masani Bandhu volunteer in Sundargarh.

“So far, we have 56 urns with us. If no one turns up to collect them, then we will organise a mass immersion ritual at Prayagraj,” Nathani added.

The story is no different at the Satichaura crematorium in Cuttack. While 20 per cent people are collecting the ashes for the ‘Asthi Bisarjan’ ritual, 80 per cent remain absent despite reminders, sources said.

“Many families are not collecting the ashes of their loved one after the cremation fearing infection. While only 20 per cent are collecting the remains of their loved ones, 80 per cent not are not turning up to gather the ashes,” said Bibhuti, a Masani Bandhu at Satichaura crematorium.

According to Hindu belief, ‘Asthi Bisarjan’ is a sacred ritual that involves the immersion of a deceased person's ash remains and bones along the sacred banks of holy rivers enabling the soul to attend Moksha. 

“Asthi Bisarjan is an important ritual of the Hindus. The soul is confined in the ashes and it needs to be immersed in the holy rivers after one year following the death,” said Surya Narayan Rath Sharma, a researcher on Hindu culture.

Meanwhile, health experts have said there is no fear of Covid infection once the body is cremated.

“Once the body is cremated, there is no chance of Covid infection from it.The family members of the deceased can collect the ash for the immersion rituals without any fear of contamination,” said Dr Sidhartha Das, a health expert.

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