The shocking footage from southern Andhra Pradesh state showed four municipal officials riding on the earthmover in full protective gear as it carried the 72-year-old man’s body, wrapped in a black plastic sheet, in its bucket for cremation.
Many in India accused officials of lacking sympathy while pointing to similar instances of coronavirus victims being treated shoddily.
The septuagenarian, who had symptoms of Covid-19 but whose test results are still pending, died at home late on Thursday. His family members refused to take him for cremation over fears of contracting the virus, prompting neighbours to call civic authorities to remove the body.
Municipal officials said they sanitised the area and had tried to arrange a hearse or an ambulance to carry the man’s body to the crematorium before buckling under public pressure to use the earthmover.
Jagan Reddy, the state chief minister, described the incident as an “inhuman act” as the government suspended two municipal officials.
But thousands of netizens lashed out at the government on social media, saying the incident exposed India’s failure in educating the public about the pandemic that has infected more than 5,28,000 people and claimed over 16,000 lives.
“It’s really appalling to see a human being treated like a piece of trash. Dead bodies deserve respect,” Twitter user Kashapogu Raju said.This came less than a month after government workers were filmed tossing the body of a Covid-19 victim into a pit in Pondicherry, an enclave in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, which was followed by a video of a Covid-19 patient being put in chains at state-run hospital in central Madhya Pradesh state over fears that he might run away and spread the virus.