Driven by fear

Ragi Nirmal Singh was denied cremation at his home village just outside Amritsar. Why? Its probably unfounded fears fueled by ignorance.

By Hb Singh | OPINION |

A respected kirtani is denied cremation in a village near the hospital in Punjab, India, where he passed away due to the novel coronavirus. Surprised?

Well, probably not. We have stupid people all around. This stupidity is driven by fear and ignorance. We have them amongst Sikhs as we have them amongst people of the other faiths, and those professing no faith in God. Stupidity and fear pretty much reigns across the board and governs many things we do.

Bhai Nirmal Singh, a famous and respected raagi, died on Thursday (2 April) of a heart attack. He had tested positive for Covid-19 the day before. He was admitted to Guru Nanak Dev Hospital (GNDH) in Amritsar. To avoid further contamination, it is accepted procedure to have Covid-19 victims to be cremated at the nearest crematorium. That would have been at Verka, just 7km from the hospital. But the people of the village had denied his family access to the local crematorium. In the end, they had to cremate the remains of the 67-year old former hazoori ragi of Darbar Sahib elsewhere.

Imagine that. A well-known figure dies and the people of Punjab could not give him a proper and fit cremation. What made the people of the village behave in that fashion? It’s probably unfounded fears fueled by ignorance.

The world is gripped with fear and anxiety of the infectious disease caused by this new virus. We have every reason to be on our guards. The disease causes respiratory illness with symptoms such as a cough and fever. In more severe cases, people have difficulty breathing. We need to understand it and we take appropriate measures.

The villagers are not alone. Some 3,600 km to the west, families in Baghdad are facing a similar conundrum. For over a week, cemeteries across Iraq had refused to allow burial of an elderly man who had died of the virus, according to an AFP news report released three days ago. Fearing the respiratory illness could somehow spread from the corpses to nearby population centres, Iraqi religious authorities, tribes and townspeople have sent the bodies of Covid-19 victims back to hospital morgues, where they are piling up, the report added.

In Mumbai, another run around. A man who died after struggling from Covid-19 infection was denied burial at a Muslim cemetery. Eventually, he was cremated at a Hindu crematorium.

There is every reason, medically, to be cautious when handling the remains of a Covid-19 victim. While health authorities say the virus cannot be transmitted posthumously, it has been reported that it can still survive on clothes for a few hours. In Italy, this meant that corpses were sealed away immediately.

There is a need for an SOP on how handle the remains. If they have not done so already, Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC) should produce a guide for families on how to do so.

Precautionary steps driven by sound science is fine. But Ragi Nirmal’s family was probably shunned by the community out of fear, and fear alone.

Here, too, they are not alone. Fear plays out in all of us in different ways. Guru Nanak presented Sikhi to help us rise above unfounded fears. We are not talking about fearing snakes, needles, storms or fire.

Let us not be quick to judge the people of the village. We carry our own set of fears. We have people who fear continuing a journey should a black cat cross their path. We fear taking a hair bath on certain days. We fear making mistakes when reading Gurbani. We fear questioning people who go around in the name of God and Guru. We fear making changes to the way things are done. We fear the consequences if we don’t obey some ‘baba’s’ orders to do such and such thing. The list goes on.

In the ignorance-driven fear, the villagers have denied Bhai Nirmal Singh the send-off that he deserves. Not that it will make a difference to him. But it reflects the hold of fear upon us all.

(Note: Article was edited for clarity)


Hb Singh is a Kuala Lumpur-based journalist with some experience in dealing with Sikh organisations, both from within and outside. 

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



Renown ragi Nirmal Singh dies after testing positive for Covid-19 (Asia Samachar, 2 April 2020)

Day 06 : Spirituality of fear and guilt (Asia Samachar, 13 Aug 2018)


ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |