Statement for Doongerwadi and Covid 19
Sometime in mid-March when the Covid 19 deaths started in Mumbai, the issue of consignment of our dead at Doongerwadi has been at the forefront of the various issues the BPP Trustees have been mulling over. As the community is aware our method of consignment of the dead at Doongerwadi involves various rituals particularly the sachkaar, sagdid and gehsarna. This involves giving the body a final ritual bath, putting a used sadra on the deceased and ritually tie the kusti, placing the body on marble slabs, tying up the body with various ritual knots, bringing a dog to see the corpse etc. and which means that our pall bearers would have to touch the body at various stages and hence be subject to infection.
Later in the month of March the BMC officials visited Doongerwadi and informed the Person in Charge that all persons passing away would be assumed to be infected by Covid 19 and should be cremated. The BPP discussed this at length and decided to obtain further clarification as this did not make any sense and was definitely not acceptable to the community.
Trustees immediately consulted some prominent legal experts within the community and were prepared to move court against this rule if enforced. While we were looking into this option, our Doongerwadi in Charge obtained clarity from the BMC and the Health officer in charge of D ward and he reverted that there was some misunderstanding and the government has now clarified that only persons who have specific mention of Covid 19 on their death certificates would not be given a Death Certificate for proceeding further at Doongerwadi, all other death certificates will be issued and those could be consigned to Doongerwadi.
The Board of Trustees discussed this at length and felt that taking into the following issues , it would be prudent to follow the government’s directive
A. Covid 19 is such a virus that information on the same is dynamic and changing on an almost daily basis and there was no complete guideline issued worldwide as regards disposal of the dead and hence it would make sense to follow the instructions given until there is further clarification from the government.
B. The Guidelines issued by the Department of Health clearly mentions various clauses where the body is not to be exposed, cannot be taken out of its protective cover or body bag and no complete or partial unzipping of the body bag so these we would not be able to follow at Doongerwadi. The bodies are also not allowed to be sprayed, washed or embalmed. Our system of disposal requires various touch points with the body during the rituals to be performed and it was not possible to expose our pall bearers at Doongerwadi to the spread of the virus.
C. The Government is placing under quarantine any place where any case of Covid 19 is reported so just in case anyone is infected at Doongerwadi, the entire Doongerwadi would be placed under quarantine and we would not be able to consign our other dead there either.
The above has also been discussed with our religious leaders and High Priests and they are in agreement that at times like this we can follow the government guidelines and also that all religious prayers (including the first four days ceremonies) can be performed at their respective panthaks or agiaries for those who die of Covid 19 and are cremated.This is only for those who have passed away due to Covid 19 and hence cremated.
The Bombay Parsi Punchayet