For Sunil Bhogale, 45,a Kurla Government Railway Police (GRP) head constable, rushing to the railway tracks every time there’s an emergency call regarding a casualty comprises an important part of his job. These cases, including those where people are run over while crossing the tracks or fall from a crowded train or die tragically while performing stunts, become a significant part of his day as he escorts the dead bodies to a cremation center.
For 20 years, according to Sunil, his toughest job begins when a commuter breathes his last on the tracks. “From identifying the bodies to calling the kin, it is a difficult job to do. After the panchanama of the bodies is done, I, along with my colleagues, have to take them to the postmortem centers where they are kept for at least seven days, waiting to be identified. In cases where we expect the relatives to arrive, bodies could be stored for up to fifteen days,” Sunil said.
However, it is when the bodies remain unidentified for a long time that Sunil volunteers to perform their last rites. “In most cases, where bodies remain unidentified due to our failure to trace their origin or receiving no sign of arrival from relatives, I have stepped up to cremate such bodies. Till now, I have cremated and performed the last rites of almost 1000 such men who lost their lives in railway related accidents.”
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Sunil adds that there also exists a technique in deciding how to perform the last rites of these people. “Many a times, we look for hints found from the body of the person. If we find no proof of his name or past, we try to look if he is circumcised or if his ears are pierced to track his religion. Thus, if the person is found to be a Muslim, I bury his body and in all the other cases, the bodies are cremated,” he added.
Recalling how identifying a body can be the most tedious process, Sunil said, “It was just two days back, when I had to attend to a body at Kurla station. As a mark of identification, we followed a specific mark of his collar and contacted the tailor. It is through the tailor that we could reach his kin.It was important for us to do so as the man had committed suicide after suffering from tuberculosis for a long time,” he added.
When asked if doing so forms a part of his routine job, he said, “Many a times, when there is a dearth of workers assigned to perform these tasks, I tend to step up. Other times, we are asked to do so, as there exists no other option. Till now, I have cremated bodies during my duties at Churchgate and Kurla stations.”
He said, “Many a times, I have observed people clicking pictures of the accident or the dead bodies but none offers help. Others claim this to be an ‘odd-job’ which does not suit their rank or credibility. The reality is that I do it because I consider those dead as one among us. So, even if the odour on our clothes remains, I believe I have done a good job.”
Receiving moksha or earning punya by doing the same encourages Sunil to go ahead with the task. “I don’t know how to put it otherwise, but whenever I cremate a dead, it is said Majhya navani naash jhala (The body is cremated on my name). Forefathers have claimed that punya is received through the same. I perform this task for others thinking of that.”
However, Sunil claims he expects a little more appreciation if he could. “When I tell my son about what I do, it seems to not make such a difference to him. Others claimed that as we are paid by the Government for doing what we do, it should not be something to feel proud of. Having said this, I know, no one can replace me, nor my efforts.”