They see service in giving respectful last rites

They see service in giving respectful last rites

They see service in giving respectful last rites

It was a Sunday morning and Ramachandran was relaxing with a cup of coffee and reading a newspaper. As he was pouring over the newspaper, he got an emergency call from old-age home. He picked up the phone  immediately. He was told by the staff of a shelter home in Chennai that an old woman had died and had to be cremated.

Without any hesitation, Ramachandran rushed to the place and took over the body of the senior citizen. However, the deceased was not his relative or friend. But the good Samaritan, with his few friends, sacrificed the whole Sunday and performed the traditional final rites of the old woman at his own cost.  He had not felt bad that his weekly holiday ended up in a burial ground.

V Ramachandran, a resident of Postal Colony in Chennai, has been  helping the needy to perform last rites for unclaimed bodies during the last 35 years. It all began in 1981 when Ramachandran was inspired by his father Venkataraman, who had dedicated his life to voluntarily assist the relatives and friends in  last rites.

“When I was studying in college, I got to know the importance of helping poor through my father. After his death, I am continuing his services,” 50-year-old Ramachandran said.

Ramachandran, a small-scale industrialist, does not confine his services to only old-age orphanage homes. He also get calls from various government hospitals across the city about  unclaimed bodies, which need final rites.

He takes all unidentified bodies to the cemetery and gives them a decent final rites. “Sometimes, I get the identity of the unclaimed bodies with regard to the caste or religion through hospital authorities. After getting clearance from the officials concerned, I will perform final rites according to the respective traditions,” he said. “If the deceased is a Muslim, I inform the nearby mosque authorities  immediately and with their help I will do the cremation,” he said.

Ramachandran family, especially his wife, is highly supportive of him despite the nature of his hectic work keeping him away from home quite often. Over the past three decades the soft-spoken Ramachandran had disposed of hundreds of unclaimed bodies lying in hospitals and morgues. “I must have cremated more than thousand bodies  till 2000,” he said. He does not keep track of what he has done.

However, Ramachandran, who is a staunch devotee of Kanchi Sankaracharya, is doing the services of helping the people to do funerals for abandoned bodies for a long time. He was doing it alone till 2000.

“When my guru Jayendra Saraswathi Swamiji  at Kancheepuram appreciated my work, I started Anada Preda Kaingarya Trust,” a not-for-profit, secular, apolitical organisation, along with my two friends -- Sridhar, managing trustee, and Jayaram, the treasurer -- in 2001 with the avowed objective of giving departed souls a decent farewell,” he said.

After starting the trust, Ramachandran is flooded with calls and the job has been streamlined. Accordingly, on receipt of a call, one of the members of the Trust arranges for transportation of the body from the home or the hospital to the nearest burial/cremation ground.

Besides, the Trust members ensure that after getting necessary government and court orders, the unclaimed bodies, which are usually kept for months in hospitals, are cremated properly. “We also have a team of members which has dedicated itself to this service,” Ramachandran said.

If they are not sure of the religion or caste of unclaimed body, the volunteers do not perform any rituals, but offer only prayers to the departed souls.

Stating that the Trust is getting donations from  like-minded people, Ramachandran said “We are running the Trust efficiently with seven staff members.”  The Trust foots the costs of the last rites and ceremonies for the first two days. For Hindus, it would work out to around Rs 1,500.

The donations to the Trust are exempted from Income Tax under section 80G of the IT Act. The response from the public has been most encouraging.

Interestingly, Ramachandran and his Trust mobile numbers are kept in almost all the police stations, government hospitals and old orphanage  homes in the city.  “Sometimes, the police also take his help in disposing of the body. “We hardly get any allowance to dispose of unclaimed bodies and, therefore, we call the Trust whenever we have a tough task at hand,” a constable posted in T Nagar area seeking anonymity said.

Going by the official records of the Trust, the members have performed last rites for over 2,500 unclaimed bodies and those of orphans since 2001.

Nagaraj, a close friend of Ramachandran, recalled that Ramachandran picked up the body of a newborn baby in 2014 which was left to die at a garbage bin near a hospital here. He immediately informed the nearby hospital authorities and police and arranged for the proper cremation of the child that was bitten by stray dogs.

Apart from performing final rites of unclaimed bodies, the Trust also provides financial assistance to the economically challenged. The Trust is  doing dharma pracharam (awareness) on final rites, as many choose to skip it due to lack of knowledge, he said.

Ramachandran said that at a future date, the Trust shall assist in setting up  volunteer groups in other districts. “We are going to set up our Trust and team at Thanjavur district,” he added.

"I am 50 and satisfied with what life has given to me. Attending to the disposal of such human bodies is considered the highest form of Kainkarya (service). The city remembers me whenever an unclaimed dead body is found and I am happy about it,” Ramachandran said.

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