N.Selvaraj (46), a resident of Vyasarpadi in Chennai is hopeful that he would get a regular job from the Southern Railways after serving as a labourer for a span of more than 30 years. Following a report in a Tamil daily, DMK leader MK Stalin met Selvaraj and promised him a permanent job with the help of party MP Dayanidhi Maran.
Having lost his father at an early age, Selvaraj had to be bear the brunt of taking care of his family right from his childhood. He started working at the Puratchi Thalaivar Dr MG Ramchandran Central Railway Station (formerly known as Chennai Central Railway Station) at the age of 16.
His job which, he calls ‘a God-given service’, is to clear the bodies of the victims who are run over by trains on railway tracks at the Central Railway Station. He and his colleagues who do this odd job are referred to as ‘Body Coolies’ at the station.
“I have been working in the Central station for the past 30 years and I have collected more than 6,000 corpses. I have been abused/Ill-treated by many people in society for doing this work, even my relatives wouldn’t treat me on par with them, but not once I felt bad about my job. I was born into a family of five, I have two elder sisters and two younger ones. My father passed away at an early age, so due to my family situation, I began working in the station as a body coolie,” Selvaraj said.
“I started working as a daily wage labourer for 20 rupees, and now even after so many years of service, I get close to only 500 rupees which I need to split between my partners. I have sent numerous requests to the railway, authorities to increase our wage, but no action has been initiated till now,” he added.
How difficult is it to see the dead bodies day in and out?
Selvaraj says it’s more strenuous than one could ever imagine. “Four others, who were working with me for more than ten years have passed away due to excessive alcohol consumption. Our job is that difficult, people consume alcohol to bear the stench. Whenever I feel low, I used to think of quitting this job which doesn’t provide me enough money or respect in the society, but the moment I get a call that some dead body is left unattended near the station or someone has committed suicide, I change my mind and get to the spot immediately,” he added.
Selvaraj says most of the accidents occur because of people’s lack of awareness
“I collect close to 10-15 corpses in a month. I have collected the bodies of people who died suddenly because of heart-attack inside the coaches. I have even attended a case in 2012 where a headless body of a man came in a trunk box. Most of the victims are commuters who attempt to travel on a footboard and use mobile phones or cross railway tracks in a hurry without using the subways. Suicides are other types, they try to fall in front of a passing train. In these circumstances, the body parts would lie scattered around the tracks. My job is to trace all the parts like head, hands, legs, stitch them all together and escort till the police authorities arrive. They will inspect the body and would click a picture for official purposes. After a while, we have to carry the unattended bodies to the mortuary chamber, till the whole process is finished it’s my responsibility,” he added.
How the job took a toll on his personal life?
Selvaraj says his wife rarely accompanies him for a meal. “I think no one in the world will have a job like me. Every day I will think that today no one should die, no family should suffer, etc and then immediately I think if there is no work today, how will I feed my family? It is like that, I am always caught between emotions and reality. Once I reach home from work, the dead body stench would be all over me. Even after taking a bath, the blood smell will be there. I got married just two years ago, my wife understands my work. She won’t complain about the body stench, but I feel guilty when I see her covering her nose while serving the meal, so I ask her to leave the place and call her only after I’m done eating,” he added.
One incident which he claims he cannot forget in his life is the 2014 Chennai station blasts where his attempt to save a girl turned futile. “That day morning we heard a large sound. It was a bomb blast, there was panic all over. We (labourers) got involved in the rescue operation. I saw a girl fighting for life, I carried her on my shoulders and rushed to the first-aid clinic. At that moment I thought that I have carried many dead people on my shoulders, at least for once in my life someone I carry should live long enough to see this world. But God didn’t answer my prayers, the girl succumbed to her injuries. I can never forget her in my life,” he added.
Despite all these hurdles and agony, Selvaraj says he will still allow his children to do this job if they wish. “I will work until my last breath. I will allow my children if they wanted to do this job, even I will even accompany them. There is nothing to be ashamed, we are not committing any crime, I always think that God has chosen people like us to do this service, not everyone can do this job. In the future, if the government recognizes us and gives a proper license and pay, what’s the harm in doing this job? Quran, Bible and Bhavagad Gita have taught us that dead people are equal to God, I don’t see any religion or caste in dead persons. What I am doing is a service to God and I don’t feel anything wrong in that,” he said.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, a senior official from the Southern Railway said “Selvaraj’s case has been brought to the notice of higher authorities. He has requested for a permanent job, the General Manager and other officials will check the possibilities and take a final call.”