Indore: At the Mhow Naka burial ground, Indore’s largest, a group of about 10 men, with handkerchiefs tied around their faces, lugs a coffin out of a truck and makes its way to a grave dug just a few metres away.
It’s a sight that has become all too familiar at Mhow Naka and other graveyards in Madhya Pradesh’s commercial capital Indore, a Covid-19 hotspot city. Ever since the nationwide lockdown came into effect on the midnight of 24-25 March, Indore has seen a drastic increase in the number of deaths among Muslims.
Indore Municipal Corporation data shows that in the first two weeks of April, the city has witnessed a massive spike in burials, but there is no corresponding spike from Hindu cremation grounds.
ThePrint visited the city’s biggest burial grounds to find out why this spike had occurred, and was told by city officials and people in-charge of the graveyards that not many deaths were related to Covid-19, despite several containment zones in the city falling in areas with high Muslim populations.
Several people said a lot of these deaths had occurred because the people were denied treatment at hospitals. However, Indore Collector Manish Singh told ThePrint that the reason for the spike in Muslim deaths could be the strictness of the lockdown.
“From 25 March to 29 March, the atmosphere was a little liberal, but it became stricter after 29 March. Then, we closed all the clinics, which are a potential source of the spread of infection. The local doctors were made to sit outside and treat patients,” he said.
“It is possible that because of hypertension, sugar and heart ailments, such localised cases happened. But nothing happened on a large scale,” Singh said.
‘JCB’ brought in to dig more graves
The number of bodies buried at Mhow Naka alone between 1 and 16 April was 75, compared to 10 in March, 29 in February and 48 in January.
“Earlier, we would get two or three bodies every day. In a month, 30-35 bodies were normal. But after the (Covid-19) infection, this number has increased by 25-30 bodies,” a weary-eyed Mubarik Hussain, in-charge of the cemetery, told ThePrint.
Hussain said the cause of the deaths were predominantly heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension. Only 8-10 bodied were those of Covid-19 patients, and they too had tested positive after death, he said.
“In some cases, people did not get proper treatment — hospitals refuse to admit them. Some also died at the gates of the hospitals. They were just going around from hospital to hospital,” Hussain said.
ThePrint spotted a digger, commonly known by its brand name ‘JCB’, which had just finished digging a grave. Hussain said the machine had been brought in by the local authorities to help the overburdened staff. “There are only four people here to dig the graves. So, sometimes, families also end up digging graves,” he said.
Residents of the neighbouring Samajwad area described the frequent sight of bodies being brought to be buried. Subhash Chouhan, 36, who lives just about 100 feet away from the burial ground, said, “I’ve seen 8-10 bodies being brought in one day. Four people would bring it in a cart and bury it just two or three feet into the ground.”
Chouhan said he shot a video of a burial — he presumed it was that of a Covid-19 patient, since out of six people who buried the body, three were wrapped in personal protective equipment.
Another resident, Rahul Nangi, said: “They bring the bodies here at night or early morning. The colony is sealed, and people are very scared of the infection spreading. We had also sent an appeal to the Chhatripura police station.”
Not limited to one graveyard
The upward trend of burials has been observed at three other burial grounds too. At the Banganga cemetery, 44 bodies were buried between 1 and 16 April, of which 29 were brought in just between the 10th and the 16th. The numbers for the three preceding months were 10 (March), 11 (February) and 9 (January).
At the Chandan Nagar cemetery, the 1-16 April figure was 56, compared to 30 in March, 12 in February and 7 in January.
But the jump at Luniyapura graveyard was even bigger — 96 bodies were brought there in the first 16 days of burial, compared to just 5 in March, 13 in February and 20 in January.
“More people die out of anxiety and of not getting treatment. No one wants to touch them in the hospitals,” said an exasperated-looking Luniyapura cemetery in-charge Rafique Shah.
“We are digging five to seven graves every day — twice the usual number. I’ve had to employ three people when usually it’s just me.”
The state of Hindu cremation grounds
Data shows that the number of bodies at Hindu cremation grounds hasn’t spiked as much as at the Muslim graveyards.
At Panchkuian cremation ground, the largest in Indore, 95 bodies were cremated between 1 and 16 April, compared to 128 in March, 161 in February and 243 in January.
Similarly, at Juni cremation ground, 39 bodies were brought in the first 16 days of April, while the numbers for the previous three months stood at 18 (March), 26 (February) and 48 (January).
Juni cremation ground stands just about a kilometre away from Luniyapura cemetery, and its in-charge, Sohanlal Jeevan, said there had been only a slight increase since the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Earlier, five bodies used to come in a day; now the number is about eight. There are also one or two patients of Covid-19,” he said.
Acknowleding the bigger spike in the figures at the nearby cemetery, Jeevan said: “There, the rise has been nearly three times. What was usually the case for the whole month is now being seen within eight days.”
‘Left without treatment’
Social worker Anwar Dehalvi said several of the deaths occurred because the patients were denied treatment.
“The private hospitals have especially done a lot of injustice. In one day, we would have to go to eight places with one patient. But the hospitals refused to take them in, saying there are no beds,” he said.
Dehalvi, a resident of Bombay Bazar, a hotspot zone in Indore, claimed that at least 25 patients had died in the area because they were denied treatment.
Among them was Mohammed Javed’s 65-year-old father, a fruit seller. Javed told ThePrint that his father fell sick on 12 April, but had to be taken around for at least two hours before a hospital admitted him.
“He was running a temperature. We took him to four or five hospitals, but no one was willing to admit him. They told us that there weren’t any beds and we should go elsewhere. With a lot of difficulties, we admitted him to one hospital. He died the next day at 8.30 am,” he said.
“This is wrong; you can’t refuse a patient. It’s their duty to admit him,” Javed said.