The apathy towards the poor in this country runs deep, so much so, that even in death they are denied a proper funeral. In Nerusalakudi, near Vaaladi, Murugesan, a ragpicker’s 75-year-old mother, Mariammal, passed away on January 27, 2017, after being ill for sometime in the little tent they called home.
Murugesan could not afford to take his mother’s body back to his native place, so he asked the local church for permission to bury his mother in their grounds. They refused. Stung by their indifference, he approached the village cremation ground. They, too, refused. Left with no choice, he gathered a bunch of dry leaves and prepared a makeshift pyre in a public place. The locals seemed to take offence to this too since they informed the police. The Lalgudi police arrived, put out the fire, took the partially-burnt body and finally arranged for a proper funeral. They also arranged for a death certificate from the village administrative officer.
There are thousands of ragpickers all over the country and most of them belong to the lowest rung in the caste hierarchy. Since they are unable to or are denied any other employment, they resort to picking up waste. But of course, we live in a country where a person’s caste is still the deciding factor when it comes to privileges.
This isn’t the first time people have been denied proper funerals for ridiculous reasons. In Kerala, a Catholic woman was denied a funeral on the absurd grounds that her son didn’t go to church that often. She had to be cremated outside the house with her son lighting the funeral pyre under guidance from a local temple priest. The deceased woman, M P Leelamma, 72, used to attend Mass every Sunday. The priest, Father P A Antony, said the stubbornness of her son, who refused to sign a written apology for not attending church regularly, was the reason he denied them a church burial.