Shocking news reports are emerging from Gujarat each day. While some allege that number of Covid-19 casualties are being grossly under-reported, others show how the state administration has failed to manage the crisis. And then there are pictures of rows of bodies going up in flames in mass cremations, even as other pile up waiting for their turn, dark smoke bellowing somewhere, even as furnaces melt from successive cremations elsewhere in the state.
Understandably, people are livid and demanding answers. Here are a few examples of ground realities and people’s rage as reported by national and local media:
On April 13, multiple publications including The Times of India, The Telegraph, Hindustan Times and a few others carried a report by the Press Trust of India (PTI) about how frames of furnaces at two Surat crematoria had begun to melt under pressure as bodies were being cremated round the clock. Crematorium administrators said where before Covid, they would get anywhere between 20-30 bodies a day, now they were cremating 90-100 each day, with many more waiting outside. BBC’s Gujarati and Hindi news services also carried a video story that may be viewed here, though viewer discretion is advised.
Within days of this, reports started emerging of a gross under-reportage of Covid deaths, an allegation dismissed by the Gujarat government. All major publications such a NDTV, TOI, The Wire and Scroll reported on this, but Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said deaths were being reported as per guidelines set by the Indian Council of Medical Research. Rupani admitted to TOI that deaths of patients with comorbidities were being excluded from the Covid toll. “The method of recording Covid deaths has been stipulated by ICMR, all states, including Gujarat are following it. Other states are also not recording deaths of comorbid patients as Covid fatalities,” insisted Rupani.
But this is incorrect. According the ICMR’s Guidance for appropriate recording of COVID-19 related deaths in India, the cause of death (COD) is defined as “all those diseases, morbid conditions or abnormalities, injuries which either resulted in or contributed to death and the circumstances of the accident or violence which produced any such injuries.”
The COD certificate also has two separate sections for “Immediate Cause” and “Antecedent Cause”. ICMR’s guidelines may be viewed here:
So, does this mean that Rupani was deliberately gaslighting the media and citizens? Or was he genuinely unaware of procedure, in which case he was negligent, ignorant and therefore unprofessional in discharge of his sworn duties.
Meanwhile, it isn’t as if the problem of under-reportage of deaths and overflowing crematoria is new. Local Gujarati media as well as English-language national media had reported this as early as November 2020. For example, according to official figures 19 people died of Covid on November 27, 2020. But local journalists reported that they had met people at crematoria where there were long lines of people waiting to cremate their loved ones. A TOI report quoted a man who said he was 36th in line while waiting to cremate his sister who had died of Covid at a crematorium behind the city’s VS Hospital. This was after he discovered that there was a long line at the Vadaj crematorium. The other 35 bodies belonged to both Covid patients and others who had died of non-Covid related causes.
Gujarati newspaper Sandesh also highlighted the under-reportage in Covid deaths. The publication’s reporters staked out outside The Ahmedabad Civil Hospital and counted every single body brought out of the morgue between midnight and 5 P.M on April 12. The report by Sandesh said that 63 people had died at just this one hospital – the 1,200-bed Ahmedabad Civil Hospital.
A few days later Sandesh exposed under-reportage of deaths based on cremations in seven major cities of Gujarat.
Meanwhile, Scroll reported that there was a beeline for burials as well. It cited data shared by Ahmedabad’s Sunni Waqf Board, the city’s Musa Suhag burial ground for Sunni Muslims has already buried 70 bodies in just the first 12 days of April. In comparison, the graveyard had buried 73 people in all of January, 59 in February and 89 in March. The publication quoted Rizwan Kadri, the head of the city’s Sunni Waqf Board which manages burial grounds as saying, “Out of the 70 burials we had at Musa Suhag Kabrastan this month, only seven are officially Covid deaths. But the fact is, many more people have died and been buried, so what does that mean?”
Social media as a tool for exposing government’s ineptitude
Over the course of the pandemic social media platforms have become the people’s means of choice for not only sharing their traumatic experiences and asking for help, but also expressing dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the pandemic. Local journalists are also using this to share heart rending images of ground realities that are often missed by the national media. Here are a few examples of how social media is helping show exactly what is going on in Gujarat:
VTV Gujarati journalist Dixit Thakrar shared this video of a mother who was forced to sit outside with her sick son as they had not come in a 108 ambulance.
અમદાવાદની શારદાબેન હોસ્પિટલમાં માનવતા મરી, દર્દીને હોસ્પિટલમાં નથી કરતા દાખલ, 108 એમ્બ્યુલન્સમાં આવે તો જ દર્દીને દાખલ કરે છે, 108 નું વેઇટિંગ હોવાથી માતા દીકરાને લઈને હોસ્પિટલમાં પહોંચી, પરંતુ પ્રવેશ નહિ મળતા દીકરો રોડ પર સૂતો
— Dixit Thakrar ( Vtv News ) (@ThakrarDixit) April 22, 2021
Tribal leader Chhotu Vasava shared images of people unable to find hospitals being forced to combat the disease on the street side, under trees!
Corona “treatment” under a Tree right beside the national highway,
these 2 covid19 positive brothers
Now thy found beds at Tharad civil hospital in Banaskantha dist. pic.twitter.com/7EkNckMqCB
— Chhotubhai Vasava (@Chhotu_Vasava) April 26, 2021
Senior journalist and scholar Deepal Trivedi shared this video of bodies being cremated in open grounds as crematoria were already overwhelmed by the deluge of bodies.
Dear #Gujarat govt:Pl tell us why people are cremating their loved ones in open grounds in #Gujarat. This video is from #Surat and ppl are compelled to do the last rites in open ground coz of huge waiting list at crematoriums. #coronavirus #Covid19SecondWave #GujaratModel? pic.twitter.com/n4JukArD5R
— Deepal.Trivedi (@DeepalTrevedie) April 12, 2021