NEW DELHI (AP) — The hearse van carrying the woman’s body zoomed past the gate and stationed itself near the far end of the graveyard, a space reserved for Muslims who died of COVID-19 in India’s capital.

The driver stepped out and greeted four men wearing masks and rubber gloves. They pulled out the body covered with a yellow plastic sheet and stood in silence. An earth mover roared at a distance, waiting for a signal.

Of all the devastating consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, lonely burials may be the most painful.

The dying are not allowed the final hug from their loved ones. And sometimes, they don’t get a proper burial.

Of the many restrictions imposed by India’s government, which launched the world’s biggest lockdown, no more than 20 people are allowed at a funeral.

India has registered 13,387 coronavirus cases and 437 deaths.

On Thursday, as the four men — all relatives of the 52-year-old woman — stood in the middle of the graveyard, the earth mover scrapped the ground in large chunks and dug a pit. It was remarkably different from a typical Muslim grave, missing the small inner chamber where the body is placed, covered with either stone slabs or a small wall of bricks.


A Muslim priest recited a 40-second burial prayer and one of the relatives took out a rosewater vial from his pocket and sprinkled some on the body.

The body was pulled by ropes, lowered into the grave in a cloud of dust. The men took turns and threw handfuls of soil into the grave and stood at a distance.

The earth mover inched closer, picked up the remaining soil in its metal jaws and covered the grave.

The hearse van left as quickly as it came, leaving a trail of dust and a constant wail of a siren. It headed to the hospital where three more bodies were waiting to be transported.