Follow rules or bury victims: Indonesia gets tough on violators

An Indonesian man wearing a face mask and a face shield enjoys the partial lockdown, on his bicycle in Jakarta on Monday. (AFP)
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Updated 02 June 2020

Follow rules or bury victims: Indonesia gets tough on violators

  • East Java second worst-hit province by coronavirus

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s East Java province is taking extra measures to ensure people obey social distancing rules, with violators facing penalties such as burying coronavirus victims or cleaning up public places.

The province is battling a spike in coronavirus infections, making it the second-worst hit by the outbreak in the country’s national caseload.

The national government has made it mandatory to wear face masks in public places since early April, with regional governments tasked with distributing face masks for free to people.

But many have ignored the rule, forcing regional leaders to come up with social shaming tactics to reprimand violators.

On Monday, the Health Ministry reported 28 deaths and 467 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the fatalities’ count to 1,641 and the total number of infections to 26,940 across the country.

While the capital city recorded 137 new confirmed cases, East Java reported 65 new cases, Papua 50, South Sulawesi 45 and West Java 34. 

In East Java’s regencies of Tuban and Sidoarjo, the regional administration has manned checkpoints to monitor the movement of people in and out of the regions or clean up public places as punishment.

“Another alternative to social sanctions for repeat social restriction offenders is being part of the team that conducts burials for those who died of COVID-19,” Tuban Regent Fathul Huda said in a May 27 statement released by the local administration. “Sellers and customers who do not wear facial masks in markets will be told to go home.”

Sidoarjo, one of the regencies with the highest number of infections in the province, also imposed the same rule.

The regency is part of the provincial capital’s Surabaya metropolitan area that imposed prolonged large-scale social restrictions, which are due to end on June 8 after they were extended for the third time since late April.

Dimas Rahmad Saputra, a food and beverage businessman in Gresik, said locals in a village in Trenggalek regency were keen on practicing social distancing when he paid a condolence visit upon the death of his cousin in Kendalrejo village.

“The villagers kept a distance from me, being from the red-zone Gresik,” he told Arab News. “They kept reminding me not to shake hands with anyone, even with my aunt and uncle. People who did not wear masks were not allowed to go to the burial. 

Each village set up its own barrier to the village entrance. They really comply with the social restrictions because there are many elderly people, so I understand they are just trying to protect the elders from the risks of being infected.”

Residents on the resort island of Bali are abiding by local customs and values, in addition to formal regulations to control the spread of the virus.

In Sanur Kauh village, on the southeastern part of the island, the village customary board requires violators to pay a fine of 5 kilos of rice.

“There are six villages in the area including Sanur Kauh that impose such customary sanction, but so far none has been reprimanded for that,” Didi, who goes by one name only and is the owner of Didi’s Stall in Sanur Kauh, told Arab News. “We are committed to abiding by the rules to get rid of the virus from Bali, otherwise tourists would not come here as tourism is our lifeline.”

Bali’s deputy governor, Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati, on Sunday said that the island was limiting the movement of people entering and leaving the area as part of its virus control measures.

Government officials and people from the private sector are working to curb the spread of the virus. Bali residents returning from work or studying abroad, and individuals with nuclear family members who are dead or gravely ill are among those allowed to enter the island.


Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

Updated 11 July 2020

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

  • Officials say a majority are under lockdown or afraid to perform last rites

NEW DELHI: Pratamesh Walavalker was always proud of living in a well-connected area with neighbors and relatives who look out for each other.

However, the resident of Dombivali East, nearly 70 kilometers from India’s financial capital Mumbai, experienced a harsh reality check on Thursday.

None of his neighbors or more than 100 relatives responded to his calls for help when his 57-year-old father died of coronavirus-related complications.

Help, he said, finally arrived in the form of Iqbal Mamdani and his group of Muslim volunteers, who took his father’s body to a cremation ground for his last rites.

“No one came to our help, not even my close neighbor. There is so much panic among people about COVID-19 that our own don’t come near us. The Muslim volunteers helped us in this hour of crisis,” Walavalker, 28, told Arab News.

That same night, 50-year-old Mamdani and his group of volunteers helped another family perform the last rites of an 80-year-old Hindu woman who had also fallen victim to the disease.

The group was formed in late March after a local civic body said: “All dead bodies of COVID-19 patients should be cremated at the nearest crematorium irrespective of religion.”

After reports of a Muslim man being cremated in the Malwani area of the city angered the community, several members met with the authorities and managed to revise the order.

Since then, Mamdani said members of Mumbai’s Bada Qabrastan — the largest cemetery in the city — have extended their services to other communities as well.

“We get calls from different hospitals and people, and they seek our help in taking bodies to their final resting place. We decided to help the victims at this hour of crisis when there was chaos and panic in the city with the number of coronavirus cases increasing every day,” he told Arab News.

So far, the group has buried 450 Muslim bodies and cremated over 250 Hindu bodies.

He said their efforts would have been impossible without the Jama Masjid Trust, which oversees the Bada Qabrastan.

“On our request, the government allowed us to bury the dead bodies in seven burial grounds in the city,” he said.

There was one problem, however.

“No one was willing to come forward to collect dead bodies from the hospital and bring them to the cemetery,” Mamdani said.

Through word of mouth, Mamdani said seven Muslim volunteers quickly offered to help out.

The first challenge the group faced was a lack of ambulances, due to a shortage in supply as a result of the pandemic.

At first, they tried renting a private ambulance, “but the owner would not rent their vehicles for carrying COVID-19 victims,” Mamdani said.

With no other option left, the group decided to pool their resources and buy abandoned ambulances.

Mamdani said: “We managed to get 10 such vehicles from different parts of the city. With the help of mechanics and other resources, within eight days we managed to roll out the ambulances on the road.”

When the volunteers began gathering Muslim bodies from the hospital, they realized that several Hindu bodies had been left unclaimed, as their relatives “were too scared to perform the last rites.”

Mamdani said another factor behind unclaimed Hindu bodies was quarantine. The lockdown forced relatives to stay indoors and avoid the cremation grounds.

Experts have praised the efforts of the group.

“The Muslim volunteers have been really great support. They started working at a time when there was total chaos and panic in Mumbai,” Dr. Sulbha Sadaphule of Cooper Hospital, Mumbai, told Arab News.

Of the 820,000 COVID-19 cases in India, 100,000 are in Mumbai, where around 5,500 people have lost their lives from the nationwide fatality count of around 22,500.

“The morgue was overflowing with bodies because of a lack of ambulances and staff. When hospital staff and health workers were short in numbers they were helping us and the people,” added Dr. Sadaphule.

Mamdani said they would not have done it any other way.

“India is a country of religious harmony and we believe there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion. With this motto we decided to perform the last rites on behalf of the Hindu families with the support of the police and relatives,” he said.