Gangtok: The spirit of being a Sikkimese in times of need was exhibited once again when the Himalayan state witnessed its first COVID-19 death on Sunday. Eight bravehearts, including six GMC workers and two STNM hospital drivers, showed exemplary courage in carrying out the final rites of the deceased.
A worthy mention also needs to be given to Gangtok mayor Shakti Singh Chaudhary and GMC commissioner Hem Kumar Chettri and a pundit who agreed to carry out the final rites at Jalipool Crematorium on Sunday evening.
Earlier in the day, the driver, identified as Lakpa, carried out all the necessary activities to aid the family. He made calls and was there even when the body was taken out from the mortuary. The other driver drove the hearse to the crematorium in Jalipool. Six GMC workers took out the body from the mortuary. They went standing in a Gangtok Municipal Corporation (GMC) truck to carry out the last rites at Jalipool.
Gangtok mayor Chaudhary and GMC commissioner Hem Kumar Chettri firstly collected all the necessities for the Hindu rituals, to even finding the pundit from Saramsa, near Ranipool. They had earlier sensitised the six GMC workers terming the work as ‘not part of the job but a service to humanity and nation’.
The bravehearts of GMC, who otherwise were collecting the biomedical waste from various quarantine centres, had an extra duty to humanity on Sunday. They have been camped at the GMC office for four months now, initally collecting waste, but now in proper isolation after their duty to humanity.
Speaking with EastMojo, GMC commissioner Chettri said: “These seven GMC workers are staying in office and are not mixing with family, their work is to collect biomedical waste from the quarantine centres and now they have been given the additional responsibility of burying and cremation of such patients. Their medical test all came as negative recently, we will conduct another test again.”
Seeing the sentiments of the family, the authorities allowed the cremation. “We will do whatever is necessary, with minimum Hindu rituals, we allowed the cremation. It was never ascertained that GMC has to carry the COVID dead bodies, neither did we create an infrastructure, as there is no burial ground for COViD in the State, currently. It was seen as not required also, initially. Now, after consultation with the Health Department, we decided to carry the COViD dead body in their hearse vehicle. We hope that this situation doesn’t have to follow in the future”.
On the unavailability of a proper hearse, the commissioner said: “Even though we need vehicles as hearse, at this juncture with the lockdown which company will provide us with the same. A dead body has to be respected, after all he is also human. So putting him on a garbage vehicle is not the solution we are seeking”.
After hearing of the COVID-19 death, the GMC workers were scared. But they were well counselled. “They have been given the protective kits, sanitizers and disinfectant sprays were in the vehicle. Any other kind of help we have provided. They were morally ready, told them we (mayor and commissioner) would be there during the cremation,” he added.
The family doesn’t agree that the patient died of COVID but of other ailment. “We have to be sensitive and concerned for them as well. Respect their sentiment,” informed the commissioner.
“GMC is not supposed to carry dead bodies in Gangtok, in other parts of the country municipality does. But it’s the network that we have that compels us to act. Unclaimed dead bodies either from different crimes and cases, we bury them taking them to a seperate burial ground. As a year or two later, sometimes family come and we have to exhume the dead body,” added Chettri.