GAUHATI, India (AP) — Ramananda Sarkar did not want to burn his body for a living, but he was in deep debt and desperate for money.
The 43-year-old left a remote village in Assam, northeastern India, after failing to pay off the loan he received to start selling sugarcane juice on a wooden cart. But even in the capital, Sarkar struggled to find enough jobs.
Two years ago, Sarkar walked to Gauhati’s crematorium and was tasked with lighting a funeral wood fire.
Hindus believe that the cremation rights are sacred and release the souls of the dead in the cycle of resurrection, but those who actually deal with the corpse are ignored. Of the 6.4 million infections reported in India, it is a stigma exacerbated by the coronavirus, with more than 100,000 killed.
Sarkar thought that he had accepted his fame, and after finally hiding it from his wife for some time, he talked about what his job was. But in early May, he didn’t know that a woman died of COVID-19 and took part in what he considered was routine cremation.
When people learned that the woman was a victim of the coronavirus, Sarkar’s acquaintances began to keep him away. The humiliation overflowed again.
State authorities have quarantined him for several days. However, since no one could do his work in the crematorium, I let him go.
“I don’t understand why people hate me. Only because I burned the body?” Asked Sakar. “Who would do if I didn’t?”
Sarkar volunteered and is now working in a special crematorium designated by local authorities for victims of the epidemic.
Wearing a mask on the face, praying on the lips, he cremated the corpses brought in by relatives in protective suits, and in a hurry to work with minimal rituals according to the instructions of the state.
The state of Assam has reported more than 181,600 confirmed cases and 711 deaths since the pandemic began. Sarkar said he had cremated more than 450 COVID-19 victims alone.
Despite his significant community service, Sarkar’s impact on life continues to worsen.
When the landlord heard about Sarkar’s work, he said he had to move. Thankfully, a local official arranged a hotel room for him.
Sarkar also stopped returning to town to visit his family. Initially by the village representative, and after the villagers intervene on his behalf by local authorities.
A month and a half after not seeing his wife and three sons, Sarkar sneaked into his village in the middle of a recent rainy night. He was able to call his family on the road outside the house, spend 15 minutes with them and leave some money for them.
“I don’t want my sons to be crematories like me,” Sarkar said. “I want them to go to school, become good humans, and be respected by society just like me who has to meet my family in the dark.”
On the way back to the city, Sakar decided to stop by a nearby temple to rest, but soon was instructed by temple officials to leave.
Returning to the crematorium, Sarkar said he would continue to reveal the funeral firewood of those killed by the virus despite personal expenses, including the risk of infection, and that he would do the best possible to honor them. .
“I could die from COVID-19, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I will work sincerely until the end.”