Sujeet Basfor at the Bhootnath cremation ground.
GUWAHATI, April 11: It was around 11 am today when Sujeet Basfor got a call from the Kamrup (Metro) district administration asking him to prepare two wooden pyres for COVID-19 patients at the Bhootnath cremation ground – the only notified crematorium for COVID-19 patients in Guwahati.
Sujeet Basfor, who had cremated nearly 350 bodies of COVID-19 patients during the first wave at the behest of the Government, obliged without giving a second thought.
Sujeet, the head crematorium worker popularly known as ‘Chandal’ is aware that the second wave of pandemic is looking ominous and very soon they could be in the thick of things.
However, Sujeet and his colleagues at the Bhootnath cremation ground are miffed and demotivated this time around, as none of them numbering around 14, who are the frontline workers in the real sense of the term, have so far been considered for the COVID-19 vaccine.
While the Health department seems to be going all out in providing priority vaccination to the frontline workers or those above 45 years irrespective of comorbidities, many are of the opinion that the State machinery seems to have lost the plot here, some even holding the Government guilty of being partial with a certain smaller voiceless community.
“If people like us do not get vaccination on a priority basis, who else would? We are the most vulnerable lot. I will continue to do what I have been doing even if I do not get the vaccine administered. But this is somewhat demotivating for the entire community,” believes Sujeet, a third generation worker in the Bhootnath cremation ground, who was also given a letter of appreciation by the district administration for his contribution in the fight against the pandemic during the first wave.
Sujeet’s mother Shanti Basfor gets tensed every time she sees her son going about his job of cremating a COVID-19 body. “I am worried about my son. I request the Government to get him vaccinated so that he can work fearlessly. So far God has been kind to us but who knows?, she said.
With the second wave of the contagion looking ominous, Sujeet and his colleagues are taking solace from the fact that till date no Chandal has lost his life due to COVID.
“We, the Chandals, face stigma from the society every time we go out. People refuse to provide us rented accommodation. Even our relatives started shunning us when the first wave was at its peak. If we are given vaccines, this might help us coexist,” said Sunil Baishya, a 45-year-old crematorium worker at Bhootnath cremation ground.
“In the wake of COVID-19 death, the district administration would again fall back on us. But what about our safety? We too have a family to look after,” Ashok Kumar, another senior crematorium worker said.
Forget about vaccination for this vulnerable segment, with the surge being witnessed, the Government is yet to issue any guidelines as far as public gathering for cremations is concerned and if there is one, no one seems to be adhering to, a local resident said.
A senior health official, when contacted, said that although there is hardly any risk of getting COVID-19 infection from a dead body, the government is committed to covering all the frontline workers, including medical and non-medical workers.