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Performing last rites is an uphill task in this Andhra Pradesh rehabilitation colony

Koya families in R&R colony had to abandon their custom as the crematorium is on a hill

On August 15 this year, a Koya tribal family had to perform the last rites of a 65-year-old woman, Moolem Subbayamma, in a crematorium located outside the rehabilitation colony – Kondrukota R&R Colony – in Polavaram mandal in the district.

Performing the last rites in such a way was against the Koya custom. As per the tradition, the body is consigned to flames after giving it a bath with water brought in pots by every household in the habitation. “My sister-in-law, Subbayamma, died on August 14 with non-COVID-19 complications. We were left with no option but to perform her last rites outside the colony as the crematorium designated by the government is on a hill. How can we perform the last rites on the hill?” questioned Ganja Raju.

Since June this year, the colony had seen three deaths, two of them due to COVID-19, and their last rites were performed in Rajamahendravaram as per COVID-19 protocol. Early this year, at least 420 families had been shifted from their native Kondrukota panchayat located upstream the Polavaram project site to the rehabilitation colony.

“Our colony does not have a dedicated place to perform the last rites. The officials have designated a five-acre hill in our layout as a crematorium. We cannot even cross the Godavari to perform the last rites in our ancestral habitation,” said Mr. Ganja Raju, a farmer, who had received compensation under the land-to-land package. “Nobody can take the dead body on foot to the ancestral village about 50 km away in the forest to perform the last rites,” the Koyas said. As a part of the Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) exercise, the government had bought land, along with the hill, from a private landowner, which, the Koyas said, served no purpose.

Karam Sravan Kumar, who had lost his mother and brother to COVID-19 in June, said, “We have lost everything to make way for the Polavaram project. We are leading a life that cannot even offer decent last rites to the dead. We are still waiting to get a proper crematorium. While we can wait, death will not wait for anybody. The government should realise it.”

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