Karnataka, particularly its capital Bengaluru, has been seeing a huge spike in COVID-19 cases in the second wave of the pandemic. With more deaths being recorded, graveyards and crematoria are busier than usual. The workers at several of these facilities, however, say they have not been paid for months and now they have threatened to stop operations in the coming days.
Anthony, who has been working as a grave digger in Bengaluru since 1974, finds that the pandemic has made his work more stressful with the need for precautions with the bodies of those who died of the COVID-19.
But the 65-year-old, like many of his colleagues, says he has not been paid for over a year.
"The number of bodies coming is beyond control. We don't know what will happen next. I also had Covid. I was also in the hospital for three months," he told NDTV. The government and the civic body of Bengaluru did not give "one drop or help", he added.
"We haven't got our salary for 13 months. How do we pay school fee, electricity bills, water bills?" he asked.
"We don't know the world outside the graveyard. Going ahead we will close the graveyard. Then they will come to know who we are," Mr Anthony added.
Suresh, State General Secretary Ambedkar Dalit Sanghursh Samiti said, "When Covid patients die, their own families don't come near the bodies. They are far away. When the bodies come, they come like orphan bodies. We are the family members for the Covid patients. But the government is not thinking about us."
"They are not listening to our voice and our pains. So, we have planned to shut down all the crematoria and grave digging on certain days," he added.
Over 13,000 people have died in Karnataka due to Covid so far, including almost 5,000 deaths in Bengaluru alone. Karnataka's case fatality rate is now around 0.44% - but with the high number of cases, the number of deaths in real terms has also risen.
The government, meanwhile, has said the salary issue will be addressed as soon as possible.
"The people who work in the burial grounds, places where bodies are burnt, they have not got payment for 7 months. I have spoken to the senior most officers in BBMP. They say it will be cleared as early as possible," Karnataka's Social Welfare Minister B Sriramulu told NDTV.