Bengaluru: Raghu was an auto driver in Nelamangala when a pandemic snatched his livelihood from him. Unable to fend for the family of six people, he reached a stage where he would agree to do any job that came his way. All his savings were drained and three members of the family tested positive for Covid-19. “I had to mortgage my land to clear medical bills. By then, a friend called from Bengaluru and told me there is a job and people are wanted immediately. Even before he completed the sentence, I said I will take it up,” Raghu told News18.

He borrowed money for the bus fare from a neighbour and started for Bengaluru.

“After arriving at Bengaluru, I was told the job was in the crematorium and I had to facilitate to burn the bodies of the covid dead. Though startled for a moment, I nodded my head in agreement and started the work immediately,” Raghu said, explaining how he landed the job of a staffer at a crematorium. Several others working across crematoria in the state capital have a similar story to tell.

“The money is good here. But the physical and psychological trauma that we go through by the end of every day is inexplicable,” says Thimmanna, another worker. There are days when we are unable to sleep even after a very tiring day at work. Screams of the family members keep ringing in our head, he adds.

When covid deaths went out of control, BBMP hired extra men on an immediate basis to carry out cremations. Their job includes setting the body on the burning pyre, supervising the area and clearing off the burning block once done to make way for the next body. They are paid Rs 2000 per body, and with the current scenario everyone is working overtime, said a senior official who is in charge of one of the facility. “Food and boarding facilities are also provided by the administration and so we end up saving almost everything we earn here,” says Raghu.

The workers, however, said that they could not reveal their identities or details of their job to their family members or other people in their village. “I have been working here for two months now and I have lied to my mother that I work as a truck driver in Bengaluru,” Raghu said. Thimmanna has told his family that he is working in the vegetable market as a daily wage worker. The fear of being outcast or banned from the villages due to the nature of their jobs keeps them from revealing their true job to their loved ones.

Because they work and live in Bengaluru, the workers have also been told by villagers to not return home until the city’s Covid-19 numbers lowered. “If they come to know about what job we are doing here, they will definitely ostracize our families from the villages. The money that we earn here is feeding the family back in the village and also helping to clear off few debts and we are grateful for that. But we can’t risk our family’s life for this,” one of the workers told News18.

At such a time, PPE kits have been acting as a boon for them, the workers add. “First, they protect us from infection. Second, the multiple layers of protected gears that we wear also manage to hide our faces and conceal our identities, sighs Thimmanna. Once, someone he knew accompanied a body of a friend where he worked. Thimanna was thankful that no one identified him. “I did my job and they left after finishing theirs,” he said.

*Names of people have been changed to protect privacy.​

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