Gujarat Shocker: Unable to Afford Crematorium Fee, Labourer’s Last Rites Performed on Roadside

Social Commentary

Gujarat Shocker: Unable to Afford Crematorium Fee, Labourer’s Last Rites Performed on Roadside

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

The year 2020 continues to relentlessly highlight the adversities that the poor in our country are subjected to. Making ends meet in life has proven to be an unprecedented challenge, and poverty does not discriminate even in death.

In a shocking incident from Gujarat’s Surat district, the kin of a 45-year-old tribal labourer was forced to perform his last rites on the roadside due to the hiked crematorium fee.

A farm labourer in the “NRI village” of Ena, Mohan Rathod passed away in the early hours of Tuesday morning after a lost battle with a prolonged illness. At 7 am when his body was taken to the crematorium, Rathod’s neighbours were informed by the administration that the crematorium fee had now been doubled to ₹2,500.

The Rathod family, who is survived by Mohan’s 60-year-old mother Manu and his two sons Jayesh, 17, and Dev, 12, could not afford to pay these charges “in [the] current post-lockdown crisis,” Mohan’s neighbour Arjun Rathod told the Times Of India.

Feeling helpless and seeing no other way around their situation, the family eventually reached out to their Halpati community members for help. With wood contributed from each household of the community, Rathod’s family and friends finally built him a pyre alongside the road and performed the last rites they’d hoped for in the afternoon.

While the Ena village does not lack modern-day amenities such as a water purification plant, concrete roads and even a cricket stadium, much of these have been developed with NRI donations and remittances. In fact with a small population of 3,500, at least one member of each family in Ena is abroad.

According to Atul Patel, a member of Ena Seva Samiti who manages the crematorium, the administration decided to increase cremation charges as the donations from the NRIs had stopped coming in. With the sudden loss, the committee did not have any option “but to increase the charges.” However, it has been alleged that the committee did not inform the communities of this steep hike.

The village may don the NRI label, but, as this incident illustrates, its people barely seem to scrape by. How, then, do we define development in the absence of basic respect and humanity?