Seventy-one people have been arrested in Gujarat’s Anand district for violence after they disrupted the cremation of a man who died of the coronavirus, The Indian Express reported on Thursday.

According to a complaint filed by Jitendra Dabhi, the chief officer of the Khambhat Nagarpalika, the incident occured in Vidyanagar town on Tuesday night. A mob of locals resorted to stone pelting and violence when authorities were about to perform the final rites of the 63-year-old man at the Hariom Nagar cremation ground. The deceased, who had comorbid conditions of hypertension, was admitted to the Shri Krishna hospital in Karamsad. He died on the night of May 2, officials said.

Officials told the men that due procedures were being followed and allayed their fears over the spread of the infection. However, the mob got agitated and began attacking the ambulance driver with sticks, Dabhi said in his complaint.

By the time the police managed to reach the spot, another group of over 50 residents attacked officials with stones and sticks. Three police personnel also sustained injuries.

“To control the situation we lobbed one round of tear gas shell and also baton charged the crowd,” Sub Inspector TR Gadhvi told the newspaper. “Several of them were detained from the spot and the final rites were performed at the site thereafter.”

Anand Superintendent of Police Ajit Rajian said they have arrested 71 people so far and their medical examination is underway. “These people stay in the vicinity but not adjacent to the crematorium,” he added. “We have also found out that the same group of people and the main instigators were also involved earlier when they had protested against the cremation of a flu patient stating that the crematorium should only be used for cremation of people from nearby areas. There was no FIR registered, but we are still investigating.”

The accused have been booked under two different separate first information reports on charges of rioting, assault, unlawful assembly, attempt to murder and under sections of the Disaster Management Act.

Meanwhile, officials from the district administration said that there was already a long delay in performing the final rites of the man as nobody came to claim the body. “He was unmarried and did not have an immediate family,” District Development Officer Ashish Kumar said. “Most of his relatives are also under institutional quarantine. The hospital had approached his relatives residing in Anand to claim the body. But none came forward. The administration waited for two days before finally deciding to perform the final rites themselves.”

Last month, the Centre had said attacks on healthcare professionals, deployed on the frontlines to combat the coronavirus pandemic, will be a non-bailable offence and will carry an imprisonment from six months to seven years in severe cases where there are grievous injuries.

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Other such instances

There have been several instances of attacks on police personnel and doctors attempting to carry out the last rites. On April 28, residents of a village in Ambala city in Haryana clashed with the police and pelted stones at doctors after refusing to allow the cremation of a Covid-19 suspect. On April 19, a mob in Chennai attacked a group, including doctors, during the burial of a neurosurgeon who had tested positive for the coronavirus. Similarly, health officials and police officers in Chennai were in a fix on April 13 when residents in Ambattur, ignoring prohibitory orders, protested the cremation of a doctor, who died at a private hospital.

On April 8, a family in Amritsar, Punjab, refused to perform the last rites of a Covid-19 patient, fearing that they may contract the disease. In another incident in Ludhiana, the district administration had to step in and perform the last rites of a 69-year-old woman, after her family refused to perform the funeral. In Amritsar last month, residents of Verka village did not allow the cremation of Padma Shri recipient and former Golden Temple Hazuri Raagi Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa.

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No dignity in death: How ignorance, irrational fears are obstructing coronavirus funerals