Johannesburg, January 24
Cashing in on the fearful atmosphere prevailing in South Africa amidst a second wave and a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, some Hindu priests in the country are allegedly charging exorbitant rates for conducting funerals of coronavirus victims.
The priests are under fire for charging between 1,200 rand (USD 79) and 2,000 rand (USD 131) to conduct a funeral, according to Pradeep Ramlall, a member of the Hindu Dharma Association of South Africa and Manager of the Clare Estate Crematorium in Durban.
“This is not right. As per our scriptures, this is our seva (service) to the community. If a family wants to give a priest a donation, then that is acceptable, but priests should not be charging people,” he told the Weekly Post newspaper as he slammed the priests who are overcharging.
Ramlall said the organisation has received a number of complaints from people whose relatives succumbed to the deadly contagion.
In recent weeks, in view of a second wave and a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, the crematorium has had to introduce double shifts amid daily deaths in the city which is home to more than a third of South Africa’s Indian-origin population of about 1.4 million.
“I was in my vehicle. The priest had conducted a COVID-19 victim’s funeral. While he was in the parking lot, he removed 100 rand (USD 6.6) notes from his pocket and counted it before sanitising each note and putting the money back into his pocket,” Ramlall said recounting an incident that he had personally witnessed.
He called on the community to avoid being exploited under the current trying circumstances which was bringing grief to so many families and asked them to conduct the cremation themselves.
“We have pre-recorded videos that they can use. If they insist on having a priest, then the priest can conduct the funeral through Zoom or through a WhatsApp video call. We need to embrace technology,” Ramlall said.
South African Hindu Maha Sabha President Ashwin Trikamjee said they had a list of accredited priests on the Sabha’s Facebook page that families could contact to conduct the last rites at no charge.
Citing the massive increase in the number of COVID-19-related deaths, Trikamjee said there were funerals being done at odd hours by priests who use their own transport and personal protective equipment (PPE) which they might expect reimbursement for, although families would not be obliged to pay.
Earlier, Lucy Sigaban, a Hindu priestess in the sprawling Indian suburb of Lenasia near Johannesburg, had urged the government to assist priests who are conducting funerals of COVID-19 victims free of charge by providing them with PPE at no cost, but this has not happened yet.
For the last two months, COVID-19 infections and deaths have been rising exponentially in South Africa.
On Thursday alone, there were 647 deaths and over 11,000 more infections reported, bringing the total deaths to 39,501 and infections to 1.38 million since the first case was reported in March last year.
The government is awaiting a shipment of over 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from India within the next month to prioritise health care workers and other essential services staff. — PTI