At a time when the fatalities due to the COVID-19 pandemic are rising across the world, and India itself recording over 62 deaths, the debate on whether to cremate or bury the remains of an infected person is raging as well. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had earlier issued a notification that the remains of all those who succumbed to the disease would mandatorily be cremated, irrespective of their religious beliefs, and that not more than five mourners would be allowed at the site.
In support of this order (which now stands revoked), Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archdiocese of Mumbai has also directed all Christians to abide by the said order, and to cremate the bodies of those who die due to COVID-19. The Cardinal called upon all pastors to abide by the BMC circular, mandating cremations irrespective of religion with not more than five mourners.
The Cardinal also, in a video message, gave a clarion call to all community members and clerics to abide by the government’s guidelines in letter and spirit. He asked all Christians to abide by social distancing norms and maintain hand and body hygiene at all times.
“Looking at the situation in other countries, the government in India might be compelled to extend the lockdown beyond April 14. Therefore, I urge all the Christian padres to not organise any baptisms, first communions and marriages immediately after April 14. It would not be prudent to do so,” Cardinal Gracias added. This is a welcome statement by the Archdiocese of Mumbai, as it is a rational thing to do, for one to keep religious beliefs and practices aside at a time when the nation is fighting for its life.
It is however, also necessary to mention that the said circular by the BMC now stands revoked, after the Uddhav Thackeray led government and Shiv Sena controlled BMC was held to ransom by Sharad Pawar and the NCP. Although the NCP has a meagre 9 out of the 227 seats in the Municipal Corporation, it was nevertheless, successful in arm-twisting the Shiv Sena to lie prostrate before it.
This is to bring to your kind attention that I have spoken to @mybmc Commissioner Mr. Praveen Pardeshi regarding the circular issued by him for cremation of those who have lost their lives due to the #CoronaVirus.
The said circular has now been withdrawn.
— Nawab Malik نواب ملک नवाब मलिक (@nawabmalikncp) March 30, 2020
Shia Central Waqf Board Chief, Wassem Rizwi has also supported the mandatory cremation of all bodies which had succumbed to Coronavirus. He had said, “If a Muslim person dies due to COVID-19 infection, the dead body should be burnt in the electric machines available in the crematorium so that the deadly virus also gets killed.” He added that if the pandemic intensifies in India, the Shia Waqf Board would take a call on whether the Muslim bodies should be buried or burnt in kabristan.
Cremation is the one way which can ensure that the virus strain is killed and is rendered incapable to threaten the lives of future generations. The intense heat generated during a cremation is sufficient to kill the virus, while a burial poses the threat of it mixing with groundwater, and even adapting itself to survive in soil. The National Health Commission of China too had mandated only cremations of the deceased due to Coronavirus.
While the world is accepting the ancient Indian practice of cremation, for people like Nawab Malik to put religion above public health is indeed worrisome. Meanwhile, it is also a welcome change to see people like Cardinal Oswald and Waseem Rizwi wholeheartedly accepting the idea, and making sure that future generations do not suffer due to the religious obstinacy of a few.