Funeral over a video call: COVID-19 lockdown forces Odisha migrants to stay away

Not being able to attend last rites of kin takes a toll on mental health

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Monday 06 April 2020
Migrant workers wait near a highway in Odisha to reach their homes Photo: Ashis Senapati__

When Alekha Chandra Swain died April 3,2020 his two sons weren't by his side in Odisha's Kendrapara. They had to watch their father’s last rites via a video call from thousands of kilometres away in Kerala’s Ernakulam — where they work at a plastic factory and where they are now stuck due to the 21-day national lockdown invoked to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Several migrant workers, stuck like them in other states, have appealed the Odisha government for food, shelter and transport back. They await a response.

This has taken a toll on the mental health of the workers as well as their kin, especially during dire situations like losing a family member.

Pramila Basantia, a 49-year-old ASHA worker in Baljihari village in Kendrapara district died on April 1 after a heart attack. Diptiranjan and Radhakanta, her sons who worked at a factory in Mumbai, were stuck there.

“The virus has devastated me as both my sons could not attend the funeral of their mother,” said Mahendra Basanti, Pramila’s husband.

Sanatan Patra, 80, a resident of Lalitagiri village in Cuttack district died from natural causes on April 3. His only son, Ashok, was unable to reach the village and attend the funeral as he was stuck in Kolkata, where he works for a private company.

Ashok watched from his phone as his son lit his grandfather’s funeral pyre.

Some workers, however, managed to reach their villages on time to attend the funerals of their loved ones.

Sujata Pradhan, 64, a resident of Badamarichipali village in Kendrapara died on April 2. Her son Tapan, who worked in New Delhi as a plumber, managed to reach the village to attend the funeral on April 3. “I hired a taxi to attend the funeral of my mother after obtaining permission from the authorities in New Delhi,” he said.

Losing a loved one unexpectedly and missing that person’s funeral increased the risk of major depression, according to Gobinda Chandra Das, a retired physician.

“The sudden loss of a loved one and missing the funeral can also trigger a variety of psychiatric disorders in people with no history of mental illness,” he added.

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