Would you travel to another city to mourn the death of someone you have never met in your life? That is what city businessman Kishore Bhatt has been doing for the last 46 years.
Bhatt performs the last rites for the two unidentified bodies, at the cremation ground in Miraj
Bhatt performs the last rites of unclaimed bodies, and this correspondent recently accompanied him to Sangli, where the 63-year-old went, after learning that civic workers, in a manner most inhumane, had disposed of two unidentified bodies.
Bhatt saw the shoddy treatment given to the two unclothed bodies in a clip shot by a TV reporter on October 30. In the video, the two naked bodies are seen being transported in a garbage truck.
After the corpses are unloaded, a civic worker ties a rope to the legs and drags them along. He then buries the two men in a grave dug near a cremation ground in Miraj, which is 10 kilometres from Sangli.
Dignity in death
Bhatt runs the NGO, Sadgati Foundation, and performs the last rites for such unclaimed bodies, which, according to them, is the necessary respect as demanded by their religion. Till date, he has performed this service for over 3,000 bodies in Mumbai, and its surrounding suburbs of Thane, Panvel.
Sadgati’s work has particularly involved the Sewri AIDS Hospital, where dead bodies are left to rot by families, owing to the stigma attached to the ailment. The NGO also provides this service for families that cannot afford to even send off their dead with dignity.
Bhatt is a cloth merchant, and first started doing this when he was selling newspapers at Mahalaxmi station in 1968 and a friend told him about floods in Surat. He went there to distribute food packets and saw dozens of bodies piled upon each other, along with animals.
“I make the last walk with the body to the cemetery or cremation ground. I call the police, provide this service for free and also bring along clothes and other items for the rituals,” he stated.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 16. When I saw the video (of the Sangli bodies), I was shocked. The dead deserve respect and last rites, be it from any community,” Bhatt added. The businessman, along with a friend and this reporter, made the 465-km trip to Sangli.
The bodies had been buried in a cremation ground in Miraj, even though Sangli has a huge cremation centre of its own. Bhatt carried along clothes and other items necessary for the funeral, but was aghast when he reached Sangli and was denied permission by the municipal commissioner to exhume the bodies. The civic boss had earlier allowed him to perform the last rituals.
The civic chief, Ajit Karche, rebuffed Bhatt’s attempts, saying procedure mandated the requirement of a court permission to exhume bodies. It is a different matter that procedure also requires a doctor and a police officer to be present when unclaimed bodies are being buried, and no such thing was followed in this case.
Bhatt reached the cremation ground and prayed on the graves that had been unceremoniously dug by the civic worker. He covered the grave with a white cloth, burned incense sticks, and offered flowers to complete the ritual. “I came so far so that these two men are buried properly.
I am unhappy that I couldn’t give them their proper last rites (since he wasn’t allowed to exhume the bodies). Nowadays, people don’t have time for such work. They should take time and do good work for others,” he added.
The incident has stirred the hornet’s nest in the city and caused an outrage. Civic chief Karche said, “A proper investigation is being carried out in the matter. Medical officer Dr Sunil Ombale and the sweeper, Govind Madrasi, have been suspended.
The increments for R K Yadav, cleanliness inspector and Milind Shinde, cleanliness in-charge, have been terminated. This is a very serious incident.” Karche, however, refused to answer why the bodies had been taken so far for the burial, and why the police were not present on the spot at that time.