Woman gravedigger in Kerala struggles to meet both ends

 Grave-digging is considered to be a profession even the bravest man would think twice before choosing.A 54-year-old woman, however, has been digging graves in a cemetery close to a Catholic church near Kochi in Kerala for the last several decades.

The woman Baby has not only dug hundreds of graves, but also helped bereaved parishioners in laying to rest their dear departed in the pits and, after some time, removing bones from them to make way for others to find their final resting place.

Perhaps the only woman grave digger in the country, Baby has been engaged in the job at the 500-year-old church at Pallippuram for the last 37 years.

Beginning her career at 17, when most women dream of a comfortable family life, she has so far dug around 15,000 graves. Though it is one of the least opted jobs anywhere in the world, Baby considers it a social service, and a humble way of serving God, instead of merely as a means to earn a living.

On how she happened to enter a path which even men hesitate to tread, Baby said she inherited the job through a maternal uncle and her mother.

"My uncle was a grave digger at this cemetery. My mother Kunjamma had to do the same job to bring up me and my sister after my father died. I used to accompany her to the cemetery to help her and I dug the first grave when I was 17," Baby told PTI.
Just like any other teenager, Baby said she was scared when she first entered a graveyard.

"It was around 37 years ago that I first stepped into the cemetery. I had a quick glance when my mother opened a grave," she said.

"I was shocked to see a half decayed body and taken aback by the stench that came out of the pit. The body there was not fully decomposed and dissolved into the earth," Baby said.

"Scattered bones, tattered clothes and snakes and crawlers added to the macabre effect of the setting, as often seen in horror movies. I felt sick and ran back home without telling my mother," she recalled.

But, it was her first and last escape from the reality of the graveyard, with which her life has now been bound. When her mother grew old and fell ill, Baby shouldered the responsibility all by herself.

Baby digs three to four graves in a month and around 50 in a year. She is the one who decides where to lay to rest the mortal remains of the parish members, whether rich or poor.

In her career, she has seen different faces of death."I have dug graves for people who died of accidents, burns, suicides, homicides, diseases and natural causes. Angel-like children and age-old people were among those for whom I have prepared the final resting ground. Now, death has ceased to have its power to shock me," she said.
Baby got Rs 7.50 for digging the first grave. Now, she gets Rs 500 per pit.

"It is folk wisdom that all that a human being finally has is six feet of land. But it is a fact these days that it is difficult to have even this six feet of land in a cemetery all by oneself," she said.

"After some months of burial, the bones will be removed and another dead will be buried in the same pit," she said on a philosophical note.

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