In Shillong, coffins are in short supply as Covid deaths mount

COVID-19 Health Safety

Shortage of raw material worries manufacturers

Shillong: Owing to increasing Covid-19 deaths, there is a shortage of coffins in Shillong. Shortage of raw material used to make coffins has compounded the situation.

Ubalari Shylla, the owner of Dorema Coffins, informed The Observer: “We sell 10-15 coffins and make three coffins in a day, numbers which have been escalating with the increase in Covid deaths. It is difficult to get raw material as most of our items come from Delhi. During the lockdown, we are neither able to place orders nor receive orders …. We have been using door handles instead of handles designed for caskets as we are out of stock.”

Dorema Coffins has only six employees. They have to follow the protocol of social distancing and deliver coffins at the front door wearing PPE kits. They are not allowed to enter homes where people have died of Covid. 

Apart from coffin handles, another worry Shylla has is that he might run short of lining material used in coffins. He does not know when he will receive the material. 

Garden Furniture owner Joblin Kharjana said: “We have made more coffin deliveries to hospitals than deliveries at home. We have received more orders for coffins that cost Rs 4,000, which is the starting rate of coffins in my shop. There seems to be a communication gap with the government as we have still not received our car pass even though we have got permission to open our store during the lockdown. Being stopped at every checkpoint can delay our deliveries.”

“We were able to stock up on raw material, hence we will be able to sustain the demand of coffins for the next couple of months,” Kharjana added. 

On April 20, the Meghalaya health department cautioned that unless people strictly obey Covid protocols, they would have to queue up in front of hospitals, burial grounds and crematoriums.

“Imagine this: You’ll have to wait in a line for funeral, you’ll have to wait in a line for cremation, we’ll run out of rooms in hospitals, and no one can volunteer to support…,” Dr Aman War, director of health services, said at a joint press conference with medical specialists. “So obey the directions we have provided strictly.”

Dr Papia Chakraborty of Woodland Hospital, Shillong, said: “It is mandatory for a Christian family to bring their own coffin to the hospital for them to be able to take the body home. The hospital seals the casket, which is prohibited for anyone to open. As the Khasi people’s ritual of keeping the body in the house for three days has been prohibited in case of Covid deaths, they have to immediately bury the body. Coffins that leave hospitals must be placed outside houses. In a unique circumstance, the family has to write for permission to the magistrate to keep the body for more than 24 hours.”

Hospitals allow families to claim the bodies of Covid patients after they are registered at the Shillong Municipal Board. After every Covid death in a hospital, data have to be sent to the magistrate, the district health officer and the deputy superintendent of police.

In case of a Covid death inside a house, the family must inform a PHC. The body can be handled only by personnel from the Municipal Board.

An organization called Seng Khasi is providing low-quality coffins to poor families.

Fr Pascal Lyngdoh, parish priest of Laitumkhrah, Shillong, said: “Church priests use PPE kits for funeral services in Covid-related cases. We have been conducting funeral services outside houses. Before reaching, we ask the family members to identify a place to conduct the service far away from the casket. In extreme situations, we contact the Social Service Centre of the Archdiocese. With the government permitting only 15 people to attend funerals, services held at graveyards are attended by only a few family members.”


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